South Sudanese political leaders and the international community fail to appreciate the seriousness of human rights violations and humanitarian needs in the country, which is on “the verge of a catastrophe,” the United Nations warned on Wednesday.

The ethnic killings of hundreds of people in the town of Bentiu and of dozens more at a United Nations compound in Bor “have starkly underlined how close South Sudan is to calamity,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in Juba.

“The deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech, and revenge killings that has developed relentlessly over the past four and a half months seems to be reaching boiling point,” Ms. Pillay said.

“Neither South Sudan’s political leaders nor the international community at large seem to perceive quite how dangerous the situation now is,” Ms. Pillay added after meeting President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar.

The commissioner accused Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar of having embarked on a power struggle and said she had been “appalled by (their) apparent lack of concern” over a famine threatening more than a million people.

Ms. Pillay also accused the international community of having been “slow to act.” She gave the example of the UN Security Council having agreed in December to increase the number of peacekeepers from 7,700 to 13,200, “but the contributing countries have still not supplied some two-thirds of the extra desperately needed troops.”

The armed conflict started mid-December when fighting erupted between soldiers belonging to Mr. Kiir’s and Mr. Machar’s respective ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer. Thousands have been killed and about a million displaced.

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