Juba: South Sudan`s Army was poised for a major offensive against rebel forces, the president said on Monday, as the country slid towards civil war despite international peace efforts.
Expectations of a major upsurge in fighting came as the United Nations warned that the situation in the world`s youngest nation was fast unravelling, with hundreds of thousands of civilians now at risk.
Fighting has gripped South Sudan for more than a week, after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar, who was fired from the government in July, of attempting a coup.
Machar denied the claim and accused Kiir of carrying out a vicious purge of his rivals.
Vowing to oust Kiir, his forces have since seized the town of Bor, capital of the powder-keg eastern Jonglei state and located just 200 kilometres north of Juba, as well as the town of Bentiu, capital of crucial oil-producing Unity state.
The army is "now ready to move to Bor," Kiir told parliament, adding that the counter-attack was delayed until US citizens had been airlifted out.
The Pentagon said today aircraft and other forces were deploying to the Horn of Africa to prepare for possible further evacuations of Americans.
"We are repositioning our forces in the area of concern," spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said, adding however that no military action was under consideration.
At the same time UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he would ask the Security Council to boost its mission there "with additional troops, police and logistical assets," although he did not specify numbers.
Reports of a new offensive come despite days of shuttle diplomacy by African nations and calls from Western powers for the fighting to stop in the country, which won independence from Sudan just two and a half years ago, in July 2011.
US special envoy Donald Booth arrived today in Juba in a bid to push peace efforts, as the top UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said the situation was rapidly deteriorating.
"It would have been difficult one week ago to imagine that things would have unravelled to this extent," Lanzer told AFP. "There are hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who`ve fled into the bush or back to their villages to get out of harm`s way."