Thousands of jobless Tens of thousands of people have fled a fresh outbreak of violence in South Sudan, reporting mass killings, looting and forced recruitment of child soldiers, U.N. agencies said on Tuesday.
Many of the refugees pouring into neighbouring Uganda, Kenya and Sudan have been carrying malnourished children, the refugee agency the UNHCR added, the victims of a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by food shortages and a cholera outbreak.
The world's newest nation has been caught up in more than two years of ethnically charged fighting between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his long-time rival Riek Machar that has raised fears of wider instability across east Africa.
Machar's supporters said at least nine people had died in the latest clashes on a road in Central Equatoria state, the region that includes the capital Juba, over the weekend.
Government spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth played down those reports, insisting that a frequently broken peace deal signed last year was still on track. "People must understand that the peace agreement doesn't belong to Riek Machar," he told reporters in the capital on Tuesday.
The personal rivalry between Kiir, from the Dinka group, and Machar, a Nuer, has worsened ethnic splits in a country awash with weapons since the long civil war that led to its separation from Sudan in 2011.
Machar, who returned to the capital in April under the terms of the troubled peace deal, left again last month as new clashes broke out between his men and Kiir's.
GUNS, OIL, CHOLERA
Government military helicopters flew over the capital over the weekend, but the streets were quiet on Tuesday. Residents reported sharp rises in the prices of fuel, vegetables, flour and other basic foodstuffs, with traders blaming shortages on blockages on the main trade route to Uganda.
Banks closed their branches and many families stayed in shelters outside U.N. compounds across the city.
Further afield, local militias, who often fight over control of land, grazing and oil-producing areas, have been taking advantage of the chaos to step up their operations.
U.N. agencies said refugees had reported gunmen trying to block their flight and harassing them on the way.
"Armed groups operating across different parts of South Sudan are looting villages, murdering civilians and forcibly recruiting young men and boys into their ranks," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a briefing in Geneva.
Around 60,000 people have fled as violence mounted over the past three weeks, she said, the bulk of them to Uganda, doubling the flow over that border over the past 10 days.
"We are very concerned about quickly having the capacity to treat the increasing numbers of malnourished children who are coming across," Fleming said.
A further 1.6 million South Sudanese are displaced people within their country, said Jens Laerke of the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"These are really very vast numbers, it's a massive crisis," Laerke added, noting that in all 900,000 refugees have fled South Sudan since December 2013.
A cholera outbreak is spreading in South Sudan, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, with 35 new admissions being recorded in Juba county daily, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said.
There have been signs of a split within Machar's movement since he left the capital, and analysts have questioned whether both men have full authority over their followers. Asians stranded in Saudi
Thousands of jobless Indians, Filipinos and Pakistanis are stranded and destitute in Saudi Arabia after a plunge in oil prices sparked construction layoffs, activists and officials said Tuesday.
Some Filipinos are forced to beg or sift through garbage to survive after going unpaid for months, said Garry Martinez, chairman of the Migrante group which works for the millions of Filipino overseas workers worldwide.
"Some of them have nothing to eat and have to go through the garbage for food," said Martinez.
India said Monday it was negotiating with Saudi authorities to repatriate thousands of its own nationals after they lost their jobs, leaving them with no money to return home.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament in New Delhi she was sending a junior minister to Riyadh after reports that around 10,000 Indian workers had been left to starve.
Indians are among millions of poor Asians working in the Gulf states, where human rights groups say many suffer exploitation and abuses including non-payment of wages.
In Manila, Migrante coordinator Gilbert Saludo -- who returned from Saudi Arabia last month after two years working there -- said as many as 20,000 Filipinos could be affected.
Saludo said that while Manila had extended financial aid to them so far, it was not clear how long this aid could last.
The labour problem appeared likely to worsen, he added.
"It will get much worse because so much of the income of Saudi Arabia comes from oil... so their budget for infrastructure and other projects will not be met and more people will be affected," Saludo told AFP.
The Philippine Labour Department said Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello had visited Saudi Arabia last month to address the problem but would not elaborate.
Pakistan confirmed its nationals were also stranded in Saudi Arabia but gave no number. It said it had set up a special centre and fund to provide aid, food, medicine and shelter.
"The (Pakistani) embassy has further informed that Saudi King has issued a decree for urgent payment of dues to workers by the concerned," the office of the prime minister said.
"We stand by our hardworking workers who are away from their homeland to earn a living for their families. They are our strength and pride. We will help them out in all possible ways," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement.
The Indian consulate in Jeddah has been providing free food for its nationals since their plight came to light last week but repatriation has been complicated by restrictive labour regulations.
Swaraj cited a Saudi requirement that workers provide a no-objection certificate from their employers before they can leave the country.
In Manila the Migrante officials also said Filipinos could not leave because they lacked proper permits or were still awaiting months of back pay.
Nearly three million Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia, according to the foreign ministry, one of the largest populations outside of India.