44,000 displaced in South Sudan

The country's army continues to battle with rebel forces after a failed coup attempt.

The country's army continues to battle with rebel forces after a failed coup attempt. Picture: AFP

JUBA - More than 44,000 people are displaced as concerns deepen over reports of an ethnic bloodbath in South Sudan.

The world's youngest nation's army continues to battle rebel forces in the key town of Malakal for more than a week after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy and long-time rival Riek Machar of attempting a coup.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council has voted unanimously to send thousands more troops to protect civilians there.

The violence in South Sudan has taken on ethnic overtones with the UN recording mass killings, possibilities of mass rape and saying that they found one mass grave in the oil rich town of Benchu adding that they could be many more.

Furthermore, Kiir has renewed his offer of talks with rebels seeking to overthrow him but, Machar says he'll only consider peace talks once 10 rebel leaders have been freed.

Thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan some reportedly under the noses of the Blue Helmets already in place.

At least 10, 000 people are seeking shelter at a UN base in the capital Juba.

This is causing severe challenges of sanitation problems and spreading viruses.

PRESIDENT KIIR URGES PEACE

Meanwhile, Kiir called for an end to wanton killings and tribal-based atrocities on Wednesday, as government troops clashed with rebels loyal to his former deputy in an oil-producing region of the country.

Western powers fear the violence could spiral out of control and lead to a civil war split along ethnic lines in the world's newest state.

"Innocent people have been wantonly killed. People are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation. This is unacceptable," Kiir said, according to an official Twitter account of South Sudan's government.

"These atrocities recurring by now have to cease immediately," Kiir added.

The violence erupted in the capital Juba on 15 December and has quickly spread, dividing the landlocked country of 10.8 million along ethnic lines of Nuer and Dinka.

Despite African Union calls for a Christmas Day ceasefire, rebels and government troops on Wednesday clashed in Malakal, capital of the major oil state of Upper Nile.

"It's definitely not a good Christmas here in the abyss of war," said Chan Awol, a 30-year old civil servant whose family has scattered across South Sudan after the fighting started.

"Nobody wants to go back to the days when there were no schools, no hospitals and no roads. Above all, no South Sudanese wants to be a refugee again."

Government officials say production in the Upper Nile area is unaffected as the oil fields are far away from Malakal.