UK-based churches' global development agency Christian Aid has expressed deep concern about reports of escalating human rights abuses and violence across South Sudan, particularly in the capital city of Juba in Central Equatoria and Jonglei state in the remote east of the country.
An estimated 20,000 civilians have already flocked to two UNMISS compounds in Juba since the crisis began, with an estimated 14,000 more sheltering in the UN compound in Bor, Jonglei.
Political tensions have been building for many months since President Salva Kiir dismissed the entire cabinet in July this year, and there are growing fears that the violence will become widespread and have a lasting impact on the future of South Sudan as a whole.
"Human rights violations must be avoided at all costs, particularly the targeting of specific communities and potential retaliation attacks between ethnic groups," warns Amos Nderi, Christian Aid’s South Sudan country manager.
"The complex political and ethnic divisions that exist can only be resolved through long-term dialogue and reconciliation work. We need the UK Government to support a democratically functioning South Sudan state in the longer term by using their influence to encourage respect for human rights, good governance, democracy and active civil society," Nderi adds.
In an open letter from the South Sudan Council of Churches this week, religious leaders including Archbishop Daniel Deng, who is chairman of the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation (CNHPR), called for calm.
"There is a political problem between leaders within the SPLM [but] this should not be turned into an ethnic problem. Sadly, on the ground it is developing into tribalism. This must be diffused urgently before it spreads.
"‘Reconciliation is needed between the political leaders. Violence is not an acceptable way of resolving disputes. The way this incident is handled will have an effect on the future of our nation, whether positive or negative, both internally and in terms of international relations."