New York - Thousands of people are fleeing the conflict in South Sudan each day, the United Nations said Tuesday, as it reported seeing whole villages looted and burned.
More than 23 000 South Sudanese are now in Uganda and growing numbers are fleeing to Ethiopia and Kenya, said deputy the UN spokesperson Farhan Haq.
At least 62 000 people are sheltering in the UN compounds across South Sudan, where fighting erupted on 15 December between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar.
The UN officials say thousands have been killed since and that intense fighting is still being reported.
Haq said the capital Juba, where nearly 30 000 people are in two compounds, remains "tense" and UN peacekeepers are carrying out day and night patrols in the city.
He added that fighting and explosions had been reported near the contested town of Bor and there has been shooting near the UN compound in the Jonglei state capital, where about 10 000 people have sought refuge.
Kiir's forces have vowed to retake Bor from rebel fighters.
Unity state, a key oil-producing region, is another flashpoint in the conflict. Haq said a UN patrol had gone on an observer mission and saw that most villages between the towns of Pariang and Mayom "appeared burnt or looted".
"Severe food, water and shelter shortages were also reported to the mission by local officials," he added.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that more than 23 000 South Sudanese have crossed into Uganda's West Nile region and others were arriving at the rate of up to 2 500 a day.
The UN said it was "stretched" to cope with the influx, which adds to refugees arriving from Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the UNHCR, more than 5 300 South Sudanese are registered in Ethiopia and 300 are arriving each day at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, where the population is nearing 125 000.