UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said he is "alarmed" by the climbing death toll in South Sudan since the fighting broke out a month ago between anti- and pro-government forces, Xinhua reported.
A statement issued here said that Ban "is alarmed by the rising number of fatalities resulting from the continuing fighting in South Sudan," including the deaths of more than 200 civilians who drowned in the River Nile while fleeing hostilities in Malakal, capital of the Upper Nile State in South Sudan.
"He is also deeply concerned about the rising number of displaced people in the country, which surpassed 400,000 this week, and the challenges humanitarians are facing in providing life-saving assistance," the statement said.
At least 250 people have drowned on Sunday as they were travelling on a boat from Malakal to flee alleged attacks by forces of ex-vice President Riek Machar on the town.
During the past few weeks, the world's youngest country has witnessed clashes between two military factions, one descending from the Dinka tribe, to which South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit belongs, and the other descending from the Nuer tribe, to which Machar belongs.
The two sides have been negotiating in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa under the patronage of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD). The two sides have failed so far to reach an agreement on ceasefire.
In Tuesday's statement, Ban called on all parties to cease hostilities and urged them to engage constructively with the IGAD-led negotiation process, "while doing their utmost to prevent civilian casualties, uphold principles of International Humanitarian Law and respect human rights."
The UN chief also strongly condemned the commandeering of humanitarian vehicles and the theft of food stocks and other relief items by both government and anti-government forces.
"He reiterates that those responsible for attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers and UN personnel will be held accountable, and that the United Nations will continue to actively protect civilians applying strict impartiality," said the statement.