The African Union (AU) is demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities in South Sudan and has called on leaders of the warring factions to engage in dialogue to prevent an all-out civil war, according to AU spokesman, El Ghassim Wane.
Wane says the AU supports efforts by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to help resolve the security situation in South Sudan.
Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes since the beginning of the conflict. Wane says senior officials of the AU's Peace and Security Council deliberated on the security situation in South Sudan.
"We are indeed extremely concerned about the current situation in South Sudan, which has the potential to totally undermine the viability of the new nation," said Wane. "The AU is extending full support to the efforts initiated by IGAD, to call for a restraint for cessation of hostilities and for dialogue. We will continue our efforts with close consultation with IGAD and with [other] international partners."
The violence erupted after President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup. Mr. Marcher who is in hiding has denied the accusation. News reports say ethnic tension between the two groups is fueling the conflict, with members of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups targeting each other.
Wane says the recent meeting between the IGAD, the African Union, as well as the United Nations representatives and the warring factions in South Sudan was productive.
"The talks were useful, said Wane. "[They] conveyed the concerns of the international community, conveyed the message of constraint, and the message of dialogue to all the stakeholders. There is no other option than dialogue to end this political dialogue and prevent it from evolving into all out civil war, which will have far reaching consequences for the people of South Sudan for the region and for the continent on the whole."
He says President Kiir's announcement that he is willing to hold "unconditional" talks with Mr. Marcher is a positive step towards finding a solution to the security challenge the country faces.
"We need to pursue those efforts and make sure that the efforts made do translate completely into some tangible progress, as a way of addressing the fate of the civilians who are caught in this very difficult situation," said Wane.
He says the AU has called on the warring factions to create an environment to enable aid agencies to provide assistance to victims of the violence.
"We have made repeated appeals for all stakeholders to create space for humanitarian assistance. So that humanitarian actors can assist the civilian population," said Wane. "