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Military officials said that the army was just eight kilometres away from the strategic town which produces 240,000 barrels of oil per day.
The security situation in South Sudan began to deteriorate on December 15 when Kiir accused his former Vice-President Machar of masterminding a coup attempt. Some reports said that members of the Presidential Guard loyal to Machar engaged in a gun battle with security forces supporting Kir.
Hostilities erupted when other supporters of the two men, from rival tribes, clashed in the capital Juba, which has since been stabilised by the South Sudan Army loyal to Kiir.
However, the UN reported on Friday that fighting had spread to over 30 towns throughout South Sudan.
The continued fighting – now in its third week – near Bentiu has raised concerns that oil production, which South Sudan uses as its number one source of financing, could be disrupted.
Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group said that the initial death toll of 1,000 was too low and revised estimates to 10,000 fatalities.
On Thursday, the UN said that the number of displaced people fleeing the fighting has jumped to 200,000, and also announced that it had released an emergency fund of $15 million.
In late December, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to dispatch an additional 5,500 UN soldiers and some 700 additional police to reinforce 7,000 soldiers already deployed as part of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which also includes some 2,000 experts, observers and aid workers.
Despite diplomatic promises to begin landing troops at the end of December, officials close to the Security Council said that it could take up to an additional two months for the full UN forces “surge” to be completed.