BEIJING (Reuters) - China called on Friday for an end to conflict in South Sudan where fighting has caused thousands of people to flee from their homes and prompted warnings to oil companies to shut down operations.
China is a major investor in South Sudan's oil industry and has played an unusually active diplomatic role there, sending peacekeepers as part of a U.N. mission to protect civilians.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was "gravely concerned" about the situation.
"We call on the parties in South Sudan to use the fundamental and long-term interests of the people of South Sudan as a starting point, immediately stop military conflict to ensure the safety of South Sudan's foreign workers and personnel working for the U.N., humanitarian and aid agencies," Hong said at a regular news briefing.
Four people were killed this week when two mortar bombs hit a U.N. compound and a site housing civilians in the town of Melut near South Sudan's Paloch oilfields.
Hong said South Sudan's oilfields were an important resource for the country's development and should deserve the protection of all parties.
He urged all parties concerned to "make a political decision" and reach a settlement as soon as possible.
South Sudanese rebels said on Tuesday they had captured a refinery near a major oilfield in Upper Nile State, where fighting has flared in recent days, and told firms there to shut down operations and evacuate their staff.
Violence erupted over political tension between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy and rival, Riek Machar, when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.
The fighting has killed more than 10,000 people, caused more than 1.5 million to flee and driven the country of 11 million closer to famine.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee)