JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is visiting South Sudan to urge both sides involved in the country's conflict to abide by a peace deal they signed in January, a U.N. spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Ban's visit comes four days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir leading to Kiir's announcement that he is ready for talks with the rebel leader, former Vice President Riek Machar.
But government troops over the weekend attacked the rebel-held city of Bentiu, the capital of Unity state and the rebel stronghold of Nasir, in Upper Nile state.
Ban will call on the participants in South Sudan's war to implement the cease-fire agreement they signed on Jan. 23. Neither side has honored the peace deal.
South Sudan has been rocked by violence since December, when Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and 1 million people have fled their homes. The violence has taken on an ethnic dimension between Kiir's Dinka ethnic group and Machar's Nuer tribe leading to fears of genocide.
The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday it is seeing a sharp increase in the number of refugees fleeing South Sudan's violence to western Ethiopia.
Over the past 72 hours some 11,000 people have crossed into the Ethiopian town of Burubley along Baro River, which divides the two countries, after South Sudan government forces captured a key rebel stronghold of Nasir, said U.N. refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards.
Many more refugees are massed on the South Sudanese side of the border, waiting to cross the river on one of the few small ferry boats, Edwards told reporters Tuesday in Geneva.
Associated Press Writer John Heilprin contributed to this report from Geneva, Switzerland.