South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has said he is ready to open talks with the political rival accused of leading a failed coup against him. The violence has subsided somewhat as death toll figures emerge.
The United Nations said military sources on Wednesday had put the number of dead at between 400 and 500 since fighting broke out in the capital Juba last Sunday. Kiir's government claims that forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar attacked presidential guards in an attempted coup, before being repelled.
Several high-ranking politicians have been taken into custody as a result, with more - including Machar, who was sacked from his post by Kiir in July - on the run.
Kiir has appeared to extend an olive branch to the man he says led the uprising, with news agency AFP quoting the president telling reporters: "I will sit down with him - Riek - and talk ... but I don't know what the results of the talks will be."
No coup attempt, says Machar
In an interview with Machar published by the Sudan Tribune on Wednesday the former vice president insisted there had been no attempt to seize power.
"There was no coup. What took place in Juba was a misunderstanding between presidential guards within their division. It was not a coup attempt. I have no connection with or knowledge of any coup attempt," he said.
Machar added in the interview that Kiir was continuing to violate the constitution and "was no longer a legal president."
"We don't want him the president of South Sudan anymore."
Situation remains 'very volatile'
Fighting continued overnight in Juba despite a dusk-until-dawn curfew. The news agency Associated Press said around 20,000 citizens have now sought refuge at UN compounds.
"Those who have killed people will be taken to court and be tried," Kiir said, also calling on the thousands seeking shelter with the UN to return home.
The United States has evacuated three flights of citizens from the strife-torn nation, and has said it is ready to help others depart if needed. Three Deutsche Welle Academy consultants have also left Juba on a flight to Nairobi, along with approximately 160 German passengers. The flight was organized by the German embassy and the German Federal Foreign Office's crisis management team.
The UN reported clashes in Torit, the state capital of Eastern Equatoria, in the country's south-east.
"The situation is very fluid and very volatile. I don't think this crisis is coming to an end yet," spokesman for the UN mission to South Sudan, Joseph Contreras told news agency DPA via telephone.
"[That the] violence has spread to other states is worrying."
Mediation urgent, says Ban
At the UN in New York, United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters: "This is a political crisis and urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialog."
Ethnic violence has been a constant for South Sudan since independence in July 2011.
Kiir and Machar hail from rival tribes and fought on opposing sides during the civil war.
Clashes on Sunday were predominantly between those from Kiir's Dinka tribe and Machar's Nuer group. Kiir, however, has insisted the clashes were prompted by political differences and "not a tribal fight."
ph/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa)