UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Combat is ongoing in South Sudan despite the opening of peace talks meant to end factional fighting, the United Nations said Tuesday.
U.N. peacekeepers reported fighting south of the city of Bor in oil-producing Jonglei state, and U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said explosions were heard to the southeast.
The peacekeepers patrolled a highway in Unity State and found most villages along the road from Mayom Junction to Pariyang burned or looted. Severe food, water and shelter shortages were also reported to the U.N. mission by local officials, Haq said.
Peacekeepers are on 24-hour patrols in Juba, the capital, but the situation remains tense there, he said.
The U.N. Mission in South Sudan continues to protect about 62,000 civilians in its bases, including nearly 30,000 at its two Juba bases, Haq said.
Talks in Ethiopia between representatives of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar were to resume Tuesday.
South Sudan has seen three weeks of violence that Kiir says began as a coup attempt Dec. 15, though Machar's side denies the allegation.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Kiir to urge him "to use the talks to find a peaceful, democratic way forward" and said senior members of Machar's faction who are imprisoned need to attend the talks, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said in Washington.
Kerry "reiterated that the United States will deny support and work to apply international pressure to any elements that use force to seize power from the government of South Sudan," she said.
South Sudan has been plagued by ethnic tension and a power struggle within the ruling party that escalated after Kiir dismissed Machar as his vice president in July, with the violence boiling over in mid-December. The rebels back Machar, who is now a fugitive sought by the military.