JUBA - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon flew into South Sudan Tuesday to demand an end to a brutal civil war, with leaders defying peace efforts despite dire warnings of genocide and famine.
The visit, coming as rebels and government forces battle for control of a key oil town, is the latest major push for a ceasefire in the nearly five-month-old civil war, which has seen the world's youngest nation collapse amid a brutal cycle of war crimes.
"The Secretary-General has repeatedly called on the leaders to find a political solution, and to put an immediate end to the violence which has led to the suffering of so many innocent civilians," a UN statement read.
Both sides in the conflict have been accused of widespread ethnic massacres, rape and recruitment of thousands of child soldiers.
Ban's visit comes days after US Secretary of State John Kerry flew into the capital, a visit in which he extracted promises from President Salva Kiir to meet face-to-face with rebel chief Riek Machar, a former vice-president.
But despite warnings of sanctions if fighting continued, the government has pushed forward a major offensive to claw back towns from the gunmen, capturing a rebel stronghold and forcing Machar to flee into the bush.
Kerry, who had already threatened US sanctions on the warring parties, has since warned of "serious implications" unless the fighting stops.
Ban, who is scheduled to meet with Kiir on his one-day visit, will also meet with community leaders from the tens of thousands sheltering inside hugely overcrowded fortified UN peacekeeper bases.
They are too frightened of attacks to leave the protection of the peacekeepers, even though the camps themselves have come under attack.
Peace promises broken
Ban last visited South Sudan amid euphoric celebrations at its independence from Sudan in July 2011, after it voted to split away following decades of war with Khartoum.
But as he arrived Tuesday, battles raged around the dusty northern town of Bentiu, capital of the oil-producing Unity state, four days after government troops moved to wrest back control.