Army spokesman Philip Aguer said troops loyal to President Salva Kiir were battling forces allied to former vice-president Riek Machar inside the town of Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state. He also said troops were preparing an offensive against Bentiu, the main town in oil-rich Unity State, to follow on from their recapture of Bor, another state capital that had fallen into rebel hands during the nearly two weeks of clashes.

"There is fighting in Malakal. Our forces are in the northern part of Malakal and the rebels are on the southern part. We will flush them out of Malakal," Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman Aguer said.

"The rebels are still controlling Bentiu but the SPLA is planning to retake Bentiu soon," he added.

The violence in South Sudan, a fledgling oil producer which won independence from Sudan just two years ago, has left thousands dead, according to United Nations.

Thousands of civilians have also sought protection at UN bases amid a wave of ethnic violence pitting members of Kiir's Dinka tribe against Machar's Nuer clansmen.

The UN Security Council voted on Tuesday to send nearly 6,000 extra soldiers and police to South Sudan, nearly doubling the UNMISS force to 12,500 troops and 1,323 civilian police.

Amid reports of bodies piled in mass graves and witness testimonies of massacres and summary executions and rapes, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has promised those responsible would be "held accountable".

Crude prices have also edged higher because of the fighting as oil production, which accounts for more than 95 percent of South Sudan's economy, was dented by the violence and oil workers evacuated.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn flew into Juba today for talks with President Kiir, the latest in a line of peace brokers who have made the trip since the fighting began on December 15.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said "good progress" was made in the talks, with further talks of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development(IGAD) – a regional grouping -- scheduled to take place in Nairobi on Saturday.


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