South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as fighting raged in Unity and Jonglei states.
The declaration comes as peace talks between the government and rebels were expected to be under way in Ethiopia. Kiir and the rebels' leader, former Vice President Riek Machar, have sent delegations to Addis Ababa.
The delegations are meeting in response to an ultimatum and deadline set by African leaders of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. If the two parties had not agreed to meet, they would have risked "further action" from IGAD members.
As negotiations get underway, the United Nations has called for a ceasefire between the warring parties. UN special representative to South Sudan Hilde Johnson described the gravity of the situation to Al-Jazeera: "We have seen terrible acts of violence in the past two weeks, there has been killings and brutality, grave human rights violations and atrocities committed."
The violence began in mid-December when President Salva Kiir accused his fired deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. Forces loyal to the two men engaged in violent conflict over the past two weeks, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of 180,000.
[CNN] [UPI] [Al-Jazeera]