JUBA – The United States has called for an arms embargo in South Sudan as fears rise over possible genocide in the world’s newest country.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council she would present a draft resolution in the coming days asking for a ban on weapons sales to the country and economic sanctions on individuals.

“South Sudan is a nation at the precipice,” said Power.

The country has been ravaged by an on-off civil war since 2013, which has generally been fought along ethnic lines. President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused his former second-in-command Riek Machar, a Nuer, of trying to usurp him.

The US plea coincided with similar warnings from the UN that fighting could escalate.

Adam Dieng, the UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, visited the country last week.

He said: “I saw all the signs that ethnic hatred and targeting of civilians could evolve into genocide if something is not done now to stop it. I urge the Security Council and member states of the region to be united and to take action.”

Dieng added: “There is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines with a potential for genocide. I do not say that lightly.”

Despite Britain and France backing the proposal, it was met with Chinese and Russian opposition.

Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Petr Iliichev, said: “We think that implementing such a recommendation would hardly be helpful in settling the conflict. Introducing targeted sanctions against South Sudanese leaders would be the height of irresponsibility now.”

A peace deal was signed between the warring sides last year, but violence continued to erupt throughout the country. This led Machar to flee to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent weeks he has been blocked from entering both Sudan and Ethiopia.

It is unclear when Machar will try to re-enter into South Sudan. He visited South Africa in October to receive unspecified medical treatment.

The largely Christian South Sudan was created in 2011 after splitting from the Islamist government of Sudan. This followed decades of fighting amid calls for independence.

Jamie Prentis, Correspondent (Africa)