Juba — Direct talks between South Sudan's president Salva Kiir and rebel leader, Riek Machar should be treated as an "emergency" to prevent the country's growing violence and ethnic polarisation, the US envoy to the United Nations told the Security Council on Friday.
"We have heard many promises from South Sudanese leaders, with no follow up. We hope, for the sake of the people of South Sudan suffering through this terrifying crisis, that this time is different, and we urge President Kiir and Riek Machar to swiftly agree on a date for face-to-face talks," said Samantha Power.
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State said the South Sudanese leader had expressed willingness to discuss a transition government with rebel leader Machar so as "to bring peace and restore legitimacy."
"Throughout the meeting, I made it clear to him [Kiir] that he needs do everything in his power to end the violence," Kerry said on Friday.
In her remarks, however, ambassador Power said such a meeting should be treated by both warring sides as an "emergency".
"Every day, the ethnic polarization and violence is growing worse", she stressed.
On Tuesday, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, met with rebel leader Machar at an undisclosed location four months after a wave of ethnic violence hit the new nation.
Pillay was accompanied by the UN special envoy for the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng. The pair was tasked with carrying out investigations on behalf of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and earlier met president Kiir during their two-day visit.
She said discussions during the 35-minute meeting, which took place under a tree in a village; centred on recent violence in Unity state capital Bentiu in which civilians were allegedly massacred by Machar's forces after retaking the town from government troops.
"[We] gave him the concerns of the secretary-general [Ban Ki-Moon] about protection of civilians," Pillay told reporters in Juba.
"We received assurances from him that he himself is investigating human rights violations that occurred in Bentiu and is also concerned about the protection of civilians here", she added.
Both the special adviser on prevention of genocide and Pillay on Friday briefed the UN Security Council on the South Sudan situation.
Dieng told the 15-member body that the ethnic slaughter of hundreds of civilians in Bentui and last month's attack on a UN peacekeeping base in Bor had changed the course of the conflict.
"If such attacks are not immediately halted it could plunge the country into serious violence that could spiral out of control," he said.
"In the current situation, we see elements that we could categorize as risk factors of genocide and other atrocity crimes," he added.
Meanwhile, ambassador urged the Security Council to consider imposing targeted sanctions on South Sudanese leaders so as to halt attacks on UN peacekeepers and innocent civilian in the country.
"In the coming days my government will join in circulating a resolution that will revise the mandate of UNMISS to focus more fully on civilian protection, human rights monitoring and investigation and the delivery of food and other emergency supplies," Power said.
"This council should take up that resolution with the urgency that this crisis demands," she further told the Security Council.
The US and the European Union have threatened South Sudan with sanctions. Last month, president Barack Obama authorized possible targeted sanctions against those committing human rights abuses or undermining democracy and obstructing South Sudan's peace process.