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Envoys to travel to South Sudan for negotiations

Both the European Union and East African nations have said they plan to hold negotiations in South Sudan soon. International leaders worry that the continued clashes will plunge the young country into civil war.

The European Union and East African nations indicated late on Wednesday intentions of sending envoys to South Sudan as soon as possible.

Special EU envoy Alexander Rondos would arrive in South Sudan on Thursday, according to the European Commission.

A South Sudan government official also said that Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta would arrive in the capital city Juba on the same day, according to Reuters news agency.

It was not immediately clear whether the country's president, Salva Kiir (pictured right), or his rival, former Vice President Riek Machar (pictured left), intended to participate in negotiations. Both had signalled this week their willingness to bring the two-week conflict to an end. However, Machar has demanded Kiir resign as a precondition to negotiations.

The United Nations said on Wednesday

it believed "thousands" have died in the fighting, which began two weeks ago. Tensions escalated in South Sudan on December 15

when Machar allegedly attempted to stage a coup. The former vice president has denied responsibility. The duo are long-time rivals, with Kiir having ousted Machar from his post in July. The two are also split along ethnic lines. Kiir belongs to the Dinka group, while Machar is Nuer.

Calls for peace

While fighting raged on in Malakal - one of the county's top oil-producing cities - on Wednesday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a radio and television Christmas address to the South Sudanese people caught in the clashes.

"South Sudan is under threat - but South Sudan is not alone," Ban said.

"We are strengthening the United Nations presence and will do our best to stop the violence and help you build a better future for all," Ban said, adding that the UN would hold all culprits accountable for the "grave violation of human rights" currently wracking the country.

Meanwhile, President Kiir denounced

the ethnically-motivated killing.

"Innocent people have been wantonly killed. There are now people who are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation," Kiir said on Wednesday.

He called on citizens to "cease immediately," adding that further violence would plunge the young nation into chaos.

The UN Security Council voted to temporarily raise the number of peacekeepers deployed to South Sudan from the current 7,000 to 12,500. The resolution, which was adopted unanimously at a meeting at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, will also increase the number of international police officers in the country to just over 1,300 from the current 900.

The additional troops and police officers are to be drawn at least in part from UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Abyei and Liberia.

kms/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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