Juba: South Sudan rebels battling government forces rejected peace efforts on Thursday as the region scrambled to prevent the world`s youngest state from collapsing only two years after its birth.
Troops loyal to fugitive former vice president Riek Machar seized the town of Bor yesterday, army spokesman Philip Aguer said, as fighting continued in eastern Jonglei state.
President Salva Kiir has blamed the bloodshed on a coup bid by his perennial rival Machar, who says the alleged overthrow was a fabrication to cover up a regime purge.
Kiir has said he was ready to "sit down" but Machar, who was sacked by the president in July, rejected the offer.
In an interview with RFI radio today, Machar said he had appealed to the ruling party and army "to remove Salva Kiir from the leadership of the country."
Some 450 people had been killed in the capital Juba since battles broke out on Sunday, including around 100 soldiers, Aguer said.
Human Rights Watch said witnesses had reported horrific cases of both soldiers and rebels executing people based on their ethnicity, warning it could lead to "revenge attacks and more violence."
The battles have raised concerns of ethnic conflict, with Kiir coming from the majority Dinka people and Machar from the Nuer.
Soldiers in Juba "asked individuals about their ethnicity before killing or releasing them", or identified them from traditional facial scarring, HRW said.
However, the government insists the clashes are over power and politics, noting that both sides include leaders from different tribes.
"We condemn in strongest possible terms attempts to depict (the) coup as ethnic strife," a government statement today read, noting that of the 11 key figures arrested since fighting began -- many former powerful minsters -- only two were Nuer.