Fears of all-out civil war as heavy fighting rages in South Sudan
African leaders were desperately trying to broker a peace deal in South Sudan last night, as heavy fighting raged in the country's oil-producing north.
The leaders of both Kenya and Ethiopia met South Sudan's president for emergency talks in the capital Juba in a bid to resolve a crisis that threatens to descend into full-scale civil war.
Hundreds of people have died and tens of thousands have fled their homes in 12 days of clashes between forces loyal to Salva Kiir, the president, and Riek Machar, the former vice-president.
The violence started soon after what Mr Kiir called "an attempted coup" by Mr Machar, which prompted the arrest of several of his key political allies.
Yesterday, fresh fighting erupted in the country's north, where government troops attempted to wrest back control of a key town from rebels.
As the battle raged, Mr Kiir met Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan leader, and Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia's prime minister.
"The meeting with the president... was very constructive and very candid," Tedros Adhanom, the Ethiopian foreign minister, said afterwards.
"The issues that we discussed were, among others, the cessation of hostilities, an immediate start of dialogue to settle the issue politically, the detainees who were suspects of the coup, and the fourth is the humanitarian crisis."
Beijing said it was sending its special envoy for African affairs to South Sudan. William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, has already dispatched Simon Gass, political director at the Foreign Office, to Juba, where he was said to be "working closely" with counterparts from the US and Norway.
For his part, Mr Machar said he was ready to open discussions in Addis Ababa, the capital of neighbouring Ethiopia, and added that he had already appointed a mediation team to represent his side.
His whereabouts are still unknown.
The multi-pronged diplomatic push came as fierce fighting erupted in Malakal and Bentiu, where rival groups were engaged in street-to-street clashes that raised fears of fresh civilian deaths. The two towns are the capitals of South Sudan's largest oil-producing states.
Prices on the global oil market have edged up amid fears that the country's supplies, already down by a fifth due to the clashes, could be further curtailed.
In Bor, a town the government seized back from rebels on Christmas Eve, bodies of soldiers and civilians littered roadsides where vultures picked at the remains.
There have been few witness reports from the other towns yet. (©Daily Telegraph, London)