China has called for calm in South Sudan, urging both factions to start ceasefire talks as soon as possible, the Foreign Ministry has said.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday that the deteriorating situation in the country was cause for concern.

"We are negotiating with both sides in the conflict in various ways. China's special representative on African Affairs, Zhong Jianhua, talked with South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin on the phone, calling for calm and restraint from both sides to start ceasefire talks as soon as possible. 

"China has maintained close communication and coordination with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union as well as African countries in an effort to allow the international community to play a positive role in relieving the tensions in South Sudan," Hua said.

The Red Cross Society of China has offered emergency humanitarian aid to the people of South Sudan, said Hua, adding that China will continue to provide assistance for South Sudan.

Zhong Jianhua reaffirmed China's hope the conflict will be solved peacefully.

"The Chinese government has made it clear that it firmly opposes the use of military force to resolve conflict, especially when it causes heavy casualties ... we also believe that with the joint efforts of African countries, the relevant parties will solve the issue by rational and peaceful means," said Zhong.

'Ethnic sectarianism'

Meanwhile, leaders at an East African countries summit on Friday in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, urged various groups in South Sudan to the end the violence that has gripped the country.

If hostilities do not cease within four days of this communique, the Summit will consider taking further measures

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom 

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) member nations of Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda and South Sudan condemned the ongoing violence in South Sudan and the emergence of what it called "ethnic sectarianism".

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom urged South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar to begin talks by the end of December.

"All stakeholders in the Republic of South Sudan welcomed, number one, the commitment by the government of the Republic of South Sudan on immediately beginning unconditional dialogue with all stakeholders; and second, welcomed the commitment by the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to an immediate cessation of hostilities and called upon Dr. Riek Machar and other parties to make similar commitments," said Tedros Adhanom.

"If hostilities do not cease within four days of this communique, the Summit will consider taking further measures," he declared.

However, it remains uncertain whether Machar, who was criticised for allegedly trying to unseat a democratically elected president, has any intention to call a cease to the violence. 

The world's youngest country has been thrown into turmoil since December 15, when Kiir's government said soldiers loyal to his former deputy Machar launched an attempted coup.

According to the UN, the escalating violence has led to hundreds of deaths and the displacement of at least 90,000 people in South Sudan, which became an independent state after seceding from Sudan in July 2011.

Source: Agencies