The United Nations says it hopes to put peacekeeping reinforcements in South Sudan within 48 hours, as government forces battled rebels Thursday for control of the Upper Nile town of Malakal.
U.N. envoy Hilde Johnson, speaking in the capital, Juba, stressed the need for "unprecedented speed" to boost U.N. presence. She said more than 50,000 civilians already have sought refuge at U.N. bases since fighting erupted last week.
Johnson spoke as African mediators held emergency talks in the capital with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir on ending his country's spiraling unrest. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn were among officials who met with Mr. Kiir.
In Thursday's U.N. briefing, Johnson also urged the country's political leaders to rein in their forces and give peace a change.
"It is absolutely fundamental that the leaders of the country and all political forces and communities now put their own identity as South Sudanese first and not their own identity as members of a particular community. It is on that account that this country can move forward out of a situation of violence and strife and on to a peaceful track."
Johnson says the fighting has strained U.N. humanitarian resources, forcing officials to seek an additional $166 million in aid.
Reuters news agency quotes army spokesman Philip Aguer as saying control of Malakal was split Thursday between rebel and government forces, with each side holding one-half of the town. The agency also quoted the country's petroleum minister as saying rebels have captured some oil wells in nearby Unity state.
U.N. officials say more than 1,000 people have been killed in the violence, which has pitted President Kiir's Dinka ethnic group against the Nuer ethnic group of his chief political rival, Riek Machar.
Mr. Kiir has accused his ex-deputy of masterminding a coup attempt that sparked fierce clashes nearly two weeks ago. Machar, who is on the run, has not claimed responsibility for a coup attempt but has said the army should remove Mr. Kiir from power.
Both men have said they are ready for dialogue, but the government rejected Machar's demand that detained opposition leaders be released first.