UNITED NATIONS U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday urged South Sudan's President Salva Kiir to release all political detainees and urged both sides in the recent fighting to end the violence immediately and begin peace negotiations.
"I called President Salva Kiir yesterday again and urged him to demonstrate leadership and political flexibility by immediately releasing political prisoners," he told reporters. "This crisis can be resolved only at the negotiating table and I urge the two sides to negotiate in earnest."
Three weeks of fighting, often along ethnic lines, is ringing alarm bells around the world over the prospect that the conflict could spiral into full-blown civil war, spawning atrocities or making South Sudan the world's next failed state.
On Wednesday, South Sudanese rebels rejected a government plan to end a dispute over detainees and unblock peace talks. Fighting in the oil-producing nation has killed at least 1,000 people and caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Kiir, in turn, has refused to release 11 detainees despite promising last month that he would free most of them.
Ban also said that around 75,000 civilians have been seeking refuge at U.N. peace keeping bases across South Sudan. Earlier this week the number stood at just over 60,000.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Stephen Powell)