April 23, 2014 / 10:26 AM / 5 years ago

China urges renewed peace effort in South Sudan after massacre

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday urged renewed peace efforts in South Sudan after the United Nations said rebels slaughtered hundreds of civilians when they seized the South Sudan oil hub of Bentiu.

Civilians flee from renewed attacks in Bentiu, Unity state of South Sudan April 20, 2014. REUTERS/Emre Rende

“We strongly condemn this and urge all sides in South Sudan, including the opposition and the authorities, to keep pushing political dialogue to resolve the relevant issues and achieve reconciliation, peace and development at the earliest date,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a daily briefing.

China has played an unusually active diplomatic role in South Sudan and is the biggest investor in its oil industry.

Bentiu is capital of South Sudan’s oil-producing Unity state. Oil firms in South Sudan, a country roughly the size of France, include China National Petroleum Corp, India’s ONGC Videsh and Malaysia’s Petronas.

“China has energy interests in South Sudan, so we hope even more that this country can maintain peace and stability,” Qin added.

“We also ask that the South Sudanese authorities provide protection to China’s reasonable rights in South Sudan and the safety of Chinese nationals,” he said.

China’s special envoy to Africa, Zhong Jianhua, told Reuters in February that China’s efforts to help resolve the conflict in South Sudan marked a “new chapter” in its foreign policy that would seek to engage more in Africa’s security.

The White House on Tuesday called the massacre an abomination and urged an end to the cycle of violence there.

The United Nations said rebels hunted down men, women and children who had sought refuge in a hospital, mosque and Catholic church.

Rebel troops overran Bentiu last week. Rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Koang denied responsibility for the slaughter, blaming government forces for the killings.

More than 1 million people have fled from their homes since December when fighting erupted in the world’s youngest country between troops backing President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked vice president, Riek Machar.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

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