U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said almost 6,000 more peacekeepers were on their way to South Sudan to quell fighting between rival ethnic factions.
Thousands more international police and troops are on their way to South Sudan after the U.N. Security Council agreed Tuesday to nearly double its peacekeeping force in the world's newest country, which is already being shredded by civil war.
In announcing the expansion, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that there is no military solution to the fighting between rival ethnic factions and urged the leaders of the warring groups to sit down at the negotiating table.
"In this season of peace, I urge the leaders of South Sudan to act for peace," Ban told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. "Stop the violence. Start the dialogue. Save your proud and newly independent country.
"There is no time to lose," he said a few hours after the U.N. reported that human rights officers had found what were believed to be the bodies of 75 soldiers of the Sudan People's Liberation Army in a mass grave in the town of Bentiu.
Irene Scott / AP
The U.N. Mission in South Sudan relocated non-critical staff from Juba to Uganda on Sunday.
Barely 2½ years after it was created by splitting off from Sudan, South Sudan is being ripped apart by fighting between government troops and forces loyal to former Vice President Reik Machar, whom President Salva Kiir fired this month, alleging that Machar had attempted a coup.
Kiir's government said Saturday that it was willing to meet with Machar "provided there are no conditions attached to the talks."
Calling the fighting "a political crisis which requires a peaceful political solution," Ban said the Security Council had decided to add about 6,000 international troops and police officers to its peacekeeping force of 7,600 already on the ground.
"The situation remains very fluid," Ban said. "I am deeply concerned about growing violence in many parts of the country. We have reports of horrific attacks, including extrajudicial killings, rapes and mass graves."
Ban acknowledged the concerns of the U.S. and other Western nations that the fighting could cross South Sudan's borders into other parts of the destabilized region.
"My urgent hope and appeal to the countries concerned and parties concerned is first of all addressing this issue as soon as possible, through political means, without letting it further spread, without causing any regional implications," he said.
The U.S. has sent Donald Booth, a former ambassador to Liberia, Zambia and Ethiopia, as a special envoy to the fledgling nation.
Booth said Monday that Kiir appeared to be sincere in his willingness to negotiate, but the U.S. military has deployed 150 Marines to Djibouti from their base in Spain.
Rebel forces fired on three U.S. aircraft on an evacuation mission Saturday, forcing the pilots to abort. Four Navy SEALS were wounded and remained in hospitals Tuesday in Germany and Kenya.
The U.S. evacuated 380 Americans by civilian helicopters Sunday.
This story was originally published on Tue Dec 24, 2013 8:48 AM EST