The following piece was published 19 December 2013, SBS World News Australia Radio.
By Ildi Amon
Deadly clashes between rival army factions are spreading in South Sudan, leaving hundreds feared dead or injured.
The fighting pits troops loyal to President Salva Kiir against soldiers who support his former vice president, Riek Machar.
Ildi Amon has details.
President Kiir says Mr Machar started the violence in an attempt to overthrow the government, a claim denied by Mr Machar.
President Kiir is an ethnic Dinka while Riek Machar is from the rival Nuer group.
And the United Nations has voiced concerns it could become a wider ethnic conflict.
There are unverified reports that up to 500 people have been killed in the South Sudan capital, Juba, since fighting broke out on Sunday.
New reports from the United Nations say fighting has spread to the flashpoint town of Bor, capital of Jonglei state, where almost 20 are now feared dead.
The UN says the clashes at Bor are between factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Army at a military camp.
The UN says tensions also seem to be rising in the Unity and Upper Nile states, and there are reports of fighting in the Equatorial State capital of Torit.
The South Sudanese government says ten key figures, many of them former ministers, have been arrested in its campaign against the violence.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon says he's urged President Kiir to speak to his political foes.
"This is a political crisis and urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue. There is a risk of this violence spreading to other states as we have already seen some signs of this. It is essential to protect human rights of all those who are detained. Mandated human rights monitors must have full access to visit the detainees. Security forces must operate in full compliance with international humanitarian law."
The escalation in violence has led the United States and the United Kingdom to evacuate some of their nationals.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, is also calling for dialogue to negotiate an end to the violence.
"I saw first-hand how devoted, dedicated the people of South Sudan were and are, and how they have endured many years of conflict and sacrifice far too much for their country to now go backwards and descend back into violence. Political differences need to be resolved by peaceful and democratic means and those have been hard fought for. The government should respect the rule of law and the people of South Sudan should be able to realise their full potential in peace."
South Sudan is Africa's youngest country, having only gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
The latest fighting highlights bitter divisions in a country that is awash with guns after decades of war.
Scores of different ethnic groups live in the country of ten million people, and ethnic differences had been fostered and exploited by Sudanese government forces during the 1983 to 2005 civil war, pitting one group against another.
Among the largest groups are the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk.
The largest group -- the Dinka -- are regularly accused by critics of seeking to dominate the other groups.
These two Juba residents told Al Jazeera their experiences.
"You can find a lot of bodies all over the place. So, I had my cousin over there, he is not even been buried right now. And I had a lot of friends that I have been there with them for a couple of days - now they are all gone."
"They are targeting Nuer particularly. They even try to ask you some questions, and if you do not speak the language that they want you to speak - for instance if you are speaking Nuer language - you will be targeted. And I don't know the reason why this specific tribe is being targeted by the government forces."
UN officials and diplomats say it's not clear what's led to the current unrest.
One South Sudanese community member in Australia, Atem Atem, says it's not a widespread ethnic conflict, but a power-grab by individuals.
"I don't see it as an ethnic Dinka-Nuer conflict. I see it as Riek Machar vying for presidency, Salva Kiir as the president trying to bring him under control. That's what I see happening. It's just a squabble between people trying to get to power."
But Mr Atem believes if the current violence isn't handled properly, it could turn into a tribal conflict.
"There is an election that is coming in 2015 so if anyone wants to take power they should wait for that period of time. I think that's going to be the feeling of the South Sudanese on the street, that this is ridiculous, there's no need for it. There's no need for people to die, for people to be displaced, to fear and in this case it's going to be difficult for people to do business, to deliver services, for people who want to live."
Almost 20,000 people have fled their homes and are seeking shelter and medical assistance at UN missions in Juba, while hundreds more have sought refuge at a UN compound in Bor.
There are now concerns about water supplies and sanitation at these sites, and the UN Mission's chief of staff, Paul Egunsola, says they're trying to maintain security at the camps.
"During the day, as you can imagine, the numbers go down as many of them are able to go out to try and get something to eat. So we allow them to go in and out, but we try to screen them every time they come back inside just for their own safety and also to make sure the security of the camp itself is not compromised."