A top UN official has told the Security Council that a fresh wave of violence in South Sudan is dragging the world's youngest country closer to a "humanitarian catastrophe" as the global body bolsters its military presence there.
Edmond Mulet, the UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, warned council members on Wednesday that almost four million people, including up to 50,000 children, are at risk of going hungry amid growing concerns of famine.
"After three years of independence, South Sudan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and a protracted internal conflict," Mulet said.
"This is a man-made crisis, and those responsible for it have been slow in resolving it."
Hunger and food problems caused by violence forced more than a million people to flee their homes, said Mulet. Almost 500,000 more have fled across borders.
The Security Council plans to visit South Sudan next week.
Committed to peace
Joseph Moum Malok, South Sudan's envoy to the UN, said his government was committed to reaching a "final settlement for the conflict through negotiation" but that it has also been "forced to react in self-defense to protect its citizens."
Peace talks between South Sudan's government and rebel fighters in Ethiopia were restarted on Monday with the aim of creating a transitional government, but they have yet to yield any breakthroughs following fresh clashes along the South Sudan-Sudan border. Some believe the violence threatens to pull Sudan and its rebel groups into South Sudan's civil war.
Gunmen hunting the Nuer ethnic group have been blamed for the deaths of at least six South Sudanese aid workers in recent days. All of the murdered aid workers are members of the Nuer, to which former vice president and current rebel leader Riek Machar belongs.
Fighting broke out in December after President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused Machar of trying to oust him in a coup. That sparked months of ethnic attacks and failed ceasefires.