South Sudanese President Salva Kiir says he is willing to hold talks with the former vice president he accuses of leading a coup attempt against him.
The U.N. estimates that up to 500 people have been killed in four days of fighting in South Sudan.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed Kiir’s statement that he is open to dialogue with opposition leader Riek Machar in order to end deadly fighting that erupted on Sunday.
“I spoke to President Salva Kiir yesterday morning, urging him to do everything possible he can to end the violence and to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law," Ban told reporters. "I also impressed on him the need to resume dialogue with the political opposition. I welcome the reports this morning that President Salva Kiir is willing to enter into such talks.”
The U.N. chief said the U.N. mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, is working to protect and assist some 20,0000 civilians who have fled the outbreak of violence in the capital, Juba, and have sought shelter at two U.N. compounds there.
UNMISS has also reported heavy fighting in the city of Bor, about 150 kilometers north of Juba, and says about 1,000 civilians have sought refuge at its compound there. Ban expressed concern about the spread of fighting.
"This is a political crisis, and urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue. There is a risk of this violence spreading to other States, and we have already seen some signs of this," he said.
The Sudan People's Liberation Army has called all soldiers to report to their general headquarters.
President Salva Kiir blames the alleged coup attempt on forces loyal to his former vice president, Riek Machar, who was was fired in July.
Observers have raised concerns a rift between Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, and Mr. Kiir, a Dinka, could fuel tribal violence in South Sudan.
South Sudan's government said 10 people have been arrested for their alleged roles in the coup attempt. Machar remains at large.
Britain says it is withdrawing some embassy staff from South Sudan after the fighting spread to areas beyond the country's capital.
The British Foreign Office says its embassy in Juba, will remain open while some staff is withdrawn temporarily.
The U.N. mission in South Sudan has reported heavy fighting in the city of Bor, about 150 kilometers north of Juba.
There was also fighting overnight at a military base in Torit, southeast of the capital.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the people of South Sudan have sacrificed too much for their country to return to violence.
"Political differences need to be resolved by peaceful and democratic means and those have been hard fought for. The government should respect the rule of law and the people of South Sudan should be able to realize their full potential in peace," he said.
The U.S. State Department says it has evacuated three groups of U.S. citizens from South Sudan.
Ambassador Susan Page met Wednesday with President Kiir in Juba to discuss U.S. concern about the continued violence, increasing death toll, and growing humanitarian challenges.