Clerics call for South Sudan peace
Religious leaders have come together to issue an appeal for fighters in South Sudan to "lay down their weapons" after days of escalating violence.
Fighting has spread through the newly formed East African state, which gained its independence in 2011, following a reported coup attempt in the capital last weekend.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Vatican called for the nation's weak and poor to be "spared the trauma of conflict".
In a joint statement they said: "On behalf of our churches we appeal to the leaders in South Sudan to lay down their weapons and co-operate in seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation. As we approach the celebration of the birth of our Saviour, the Prince of Peace, this is a time for the vulnerable, the weak and the poor to be spared the trauma of civil conflict.
"We bear in mind the call of the Holy Father for peace in 2014, especially because in God's design at creation, we are all brothers, the sons and daughters of the one God and Father.
"Let us not yield to fratricidal tendencies in the name of our ethnic differences (which is what God created us to be). With all Christians, we pray for peace in South Sudan. We pray that all of you in South Sudan may become instruments of peace.
"We issue this appeal together, knowing that Christian leaders in South Sudan are working in unity and courage of faith for peace. "
The United Nations has estimated that up to 500 people have been killed in fighting between rival factions following a coup attempt against the president by soldiers loyal to his former deputy.
United States officials said today that two military aircraft responding to the outbreak of violence were hit by incoming fire leaving three American service personnel wounded, with one in a critical condition.
British military transport planes have been used to evacuate two groups of UK nationals from the troubled African state over recent days.
The Foreign Office has strongly advised all remaining British nationals to leave the country amid fears it could prove difficult to get out if there is any further deterioration in the situation.