United Nations, Dec 31 - The UN Security Council has urged all parties in South Sudan to immediately cease hostilities and engage in "direct talks without preconditions" to peacefully resolve the ongoing crisis.
"The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern at the situation in South Sudan, in particular the devastating impact of the crisis on South Sudan's civilian population and the continuing threat to civilians," Xinhua reported citing a press statement issued here Monday by the 15-nation body.
The statement came after the Security Council was briefed via video conference by the secretary general's special representative in South Sudan Hilde Johnson and commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Maj. Gen. Delali Johnson Sakyi.
In the statement, the Council repeated its call for "an immediate cessation of hostilities and for President Salva Kiir Mayardit, former vice president Riek Machar and other political leaders to engage urgently in direct talks without preconditions".
"The members of the Security Council stressed that there should be no further delays to cessation of hostilities and commencement of dialogue," the statement said.
It also reiterated support for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in its efforts to bring about peace.
The members of the Security Council welcomed the IGAD summit held Friday in Nairobi and the continued and essential engagement of IGAD to push for immediate dialogue among South Sudan's leaders, said the statement. They also welcomed the efforts by a number of other countries in this regard.
The most powerful UN body further called for full protection to be afforded to civilians, foreign nationals and UN personnel and facilities, provision of humanitarian access, release of all political detainees, security of economic infrastructure, including oil installations and the safety of the employees, and an end to all violence.
Meanwhile, the Security Council condemned incidents of obstruction of the UN mission's operations and renewed its demands that all parties cooperate fully with the mission to allow for its full and immediate operability.
"The members of the Security Council further reiterated their call that efforts to undermine UNMISS's ability to implement its mandate and attacks on UN personnel will not be tolerated," the statement said.
"The Council members reiterated their strong resolve to support a peaceful solution to the crisis in South Sudan and underscored their determination to back all efforts to that end," it added.
The conflict in South Sudan began Dec 15 when President Kiir's government said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup.
According to UN figures, fighting in South Sudan has led to more than 1,000 deaths and the displacement of at least 180,000 people.
The Security Council adopted a resolution last week to send a reinforcement of 5,500 troops and 440 policemen to increase the overall force levels of UNMISS in an effort to protect civilians.
At the IGAD summit, the East African bloc issued a communique in which it condemned the violent escalation of conflict and demanded an immediate cease-fire in South Sudan.
The South Sudanese government said earlier that it had agreed on the cease-fire, and that Machar rejected it.