The leaders of South Sudan's rival factions have urged their forces to halt five days of fighting. Fresh clashes threaten to plunge the young African nation into renewed civil war.
Heavy gunfire erupted for the fifth day in South Sudan's capital Juba on Monday, as rival sides of the conflict called for a halt to fighting that threatened to unravel a fragile peace agreement.
Vice president and former rebel leader Riek Machar called on troops loyal to him to halt firing shortly after President Salva Kiir on Monday told his forces to implement an immediate unilateral ceasefire.
The renewed fighting erupted on Thursday night, and again on Friday outside the presidential compound as Machar and Kiir were meeting. The clashes continued over the weekend, coinciding with the country's fifth year of independence from Sudan.
Five days of clashes have left scores of soldiers dead, and the crossfire between rival factions killed at eight people at a displacement camp, including two UN peacekeepers.
The renewed fighting has prompted concern the violence could rapidly spread throughout the country and involve other ethnic groups, as well as spread instability in an already volatile region.
UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon called the clashes "outrageous."
"It is yet another grievous setback. It deepens the country's suffering. It makes a mockery of commitments to peace," the UN chief said on Monday, calling for an arms embargo and sanctions on parties not committed to peace.
He also called for more UN peacekeepers in the country. The UN has 13,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan and manages six displacement camps.
South Sudan descended into a brutal civil war in December 2013 when forces loyal to Machar and Kiir clashed in fighting that quickly spread throughout the country.
The conflict has been exacerbated by ethnic rivalries. Many supporters of the president are Dinka, while supporters of Machar are mostly Nuer.
Machar and Kiir signed a peace agreement last August and worked to implement a shaky transitional government, but the whole process has been marked by distrust and setbacks. Fighting has continued in some parts of the country.
Machar returned to the capital Juba only in April to take up the position of vice president.
The two year civil war left tens of thousands of people dead and an estimated 2 million displaced. Human rights groups have accused both sides of the conflict of grave abuses, including rape, torture, killing civilians and forced displacement.
Millions of people rely on international humanitarian assistance. A resumption of fighting compounds an already severe humanitarian crisis, making it difficult for international aid organizations and the UN to operate effectively.
Embassies on alert
Already the five days of fighting have prompted several countries - including the United States, Canada and Japan - to pull non-essential staff from their diplomatic missions.
Sources at Germany's foreign office told DW they were watching the situation in Juba "very closely."
"The safety of Germans, employees of German organizations abroad as well as our own embassy staff has the highest priority," the foreign office said, adding that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had spoken with his counterpart in South Sudan, Deng Alor, on Sunday evening asking that the authorities do everything to ensure the safety of German nationals and end the conflict.
For now, the already "very high" levels of security were being continually reassessed and altered to suit the situation, sources told DW.
cw/msh, kl (AFP, AP, Reuters)