South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Wednesday he is willing to hold talks with his arch-rival former deputy Riek Machar which he accuses of leading a coup bid against him.
Groups supporting Kiir have been involved in deadly clashes with loyalists to Machar, the united Nations said in a statement Tuesday.
Kiir has accused soldiers loyal to Machar of staging a coup attempt in the oil-rich but deeply impoverished nation, which has struggled with instability since becoming independent in 2011.
“I will sit down with him -- Riek (Machar) -- and talk... but I don't know what the results of the talks will be,” Kiir told reporters.
Kiir also said powerful military commander Peter Gadet -- who rebelled in 2011 but then rejoined the army -- had mutinied again, launching attacks in the eastern state of Jonglei in support of Machar.
Earlier on Wednesday, Machar denied government accusations he tried to stage a coup, saying the president was using the claim as an excuse to purge political rivals.
“What took place in Juba was a misunderstanding between presidential guards within their division, it was not a coup attempt,” Machar told the Paris-based Sudan Tribune news website, in his first public comments since fighting broke out on Sunday.
Fighting was reported overnight Tuesday in Jonglei's state capital Bor, with shooting breaking out again in the early hours of Wednesday.
“Those who have killed people will be taken to court and be tried,” Kiir said, urging calm and calling on the thousands seeking shelter at United Nations peacekeeping bases to return home.
Local hospitals informed the U.N. that 400 to 500 people have been killed since Sunday, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council, according to diplomats who attended a private briefing with him.
According to Ladsous, the U.N. was not able to verify the toll provided by two hospitals in the capital.
Despite the inability to confirm the number of dead, “there is a heavy toll, it is obvious,” Security Council president Gerard Araud, France’s U.N. ambassador, said after the emergency consultations.
The fighting has highlighted the bitter fault lines in the country, which is awash with guns after decades of war.
Kiir and Machar hail from different ethnic groups and fought on different sides during Sudan's civil war.
Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the fighting, but Kiir said the conflict was political and “not a tribal fight.”SHOW MORE