At least 15,000 seek refuge in South Sudan U.N. compounds

A large number of women and children have fled from clashes between army factions

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Between 15,000 to 20,000 people have fled to U.N. compounds in the South Sudan capital to escape clashes between army factions, U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday after talks with the country's president.

Ban called on President Salva Kiir to make "an offer of dialogue" to his opponents to end deadly fighting that erupted Sunday, said U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Salva Kiir has accused Sudan People's Liberation Army troops loyal to his former vice president Riek Machar of staging a coup attempt in the world's youngest nation.

Ban held telephone talks with Salva Kiir on the unrest in which dozens of soldiers are said to have died in Juba. The U.N. Security Council was to hold emergency talks on South Sudan later Tuesday.

The U.N. leader expressed "concern" about "reports that members of certain communities were being targeted," said Nesirky. All civilians had to be protected "regardless of their ethnicities." Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are from rival ethnic groups.

Ban said "that up to 13,000 civilians have sought refuge at the U.N. compounds in Juba; a large number of them are women and children," the spokesman added. However, speaking on Wednesday sources quoted U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous as saying the number was between 15,000 and 20,000 people.

Ban called for an immediate halt to hostilities and for Salva Kiir's government "to extend an offer of dialogue to its opponents and to resolve their respective differences peacefully."

"He said he was counting on the president to exercise real leadership at this critical moment, and to instill discipline in the ranks of the SPLA to stop this fighting among them," the spokesman said.

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