South Sudan: Kerry dispatches special envoy to help talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry(above) gestures as he speaks during his visit to the typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban in the central Philippines on Dec 18, 2013. Mr Kerry said he was sending a special envoy to South Sudan to help foster dialogu
US Secretary of State John Kerry(above) gestures as he speaks during his visit to the typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban in the central Philippines on Dec 18, 2013. Mr Kerry said he was sending a special envoy to South Sudan to help foster dialogue between opposing factions in the violence-wracked African nation. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was sending a special envoy to South Sudan to help foster dialogue between opposing factions in the violence-wracked African nation.

"Now is the time for South Sudan's leaders to rein in armed groups under their control, immediately cease attacks on civilians, and end the chain of retributive violence between different ethnic and political groups," Mr Kerry said, as he announced plans on Friday to dispatch Ambassador Donald Booth, his special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, to the region.

Mr Kerry added that the decision, which came as battles intensify between rival ethnic groups across South Sudan, followed a phone call he made on Thursday to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir.

"Last night, I called South Sudanese President Kiir and urged him, as president of all of South Sudan, to protect all South Sudanese citizens and work toward reconciliation," the US top diplomat said.

"We recalled the difficult decisions that led to the remarkable moment when so many stood in long lines for a referendum to give birth to South Sudan, knowing all too well that the toughest decisions were still to come. Now is the time for leadership that makes those decisions through dialogue," Mr Kerry said.

The move comes nearly a week into violent clashes between followers of Mr Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, that have killed at least 500 people in the capital Juba alone.

One of the attacks targeted a United Nations base, leaving at least 11 civilians and two Indian peacekeepers dead.

UN officials reported that up to 3,000 armed youths had gathered around another camp at Bor in Jonglei state where 14,000 people have sought refuge.