The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the governor of Jonglei have called for renewed efforts for peace in the restive state, where at least 85 civilians were killed in February and five UN peacekeepers were killed in an ambush on Tuesday.
Fighting in the state between government troops and rebels has been worsened by inter-communal clashes and reprisal attacks by armed youths, UNMISS head Hilde Johnson said.
"It is incumbent that the communities involved urgently act to prevent any further attacks. Otherwise, there is a grave risk for an escalation of the cycle of violence which will trigger more deadly attacks," Johnson said.
"In this scenario, it cannot be over-emphasized that everyone loses -- absolutely everyone, and particularly women, children and the elderly who are not engaged in any of these hostilities," she said.
Johnson spoke hours before the UN reported that five UN peacekeepers were killed in Jonglei. The peacekeepers, all Indian nationals, were escorting a convoy of about 18 civilians when they were ambushed by a group of around 200 armed men.
The US Mission to the United Nations condemned the attack Tuesday.
"The men and women of the UN Mission are bravely helping the government and people of South Sudan promote peace and security in the world’s newest nation, and this tragic incident is a reminder of the hardship and sacrifice that UN peacekeepers endure daily around the world," it said in a statement.
It was unclear who carried out the ambush. Some of the fighting in Jonglei is blamed on rebels led by David Yau Yau, and other violence is intercommuncal.
UNMISS said last week that at least 85 people, mostly women and children, were killed in February when suspected Murle youth attacked Lou Nuer villages in Akobo County.
Peace is like a cooking pot. It has to be supported.
Government forces launched an offensive in Jonglei against rebels led by David Yau Yau several weeks ago after attempts to end the insurgency through dialogue came to nothing.
The South Sudanese army vowed to quash the rebellion by the end of the dry season, which is usually in May.
Johnson urged the government to restart the peace process in Jonglei state, and
state Governor Kuol Manyang called for infrastructure and other development projects to be launched to consolidate peace.
"We talk peace, we've been making peace conferences, but they have no effect. They are violated immediately," Manyang said.
Peace is "like a cooking pot," the governor said. "It has to be supported."
A cooking pot "doesn't stand by itself, or you would not cook anything. A cooking pot has to stand on three stones.
"We have to support peace through development. By itself, it cannot stand."