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Civilians killed as fighting intensifies in South Sudan oil region

The UN has said that four civilians were killed during fighting between South Sudanese rebels and soldiers. The deaths come during a particular spike in civil war violence in South Sudan.

Four civilians, including a woman and a child, were killed when mortar fire struck a UN compound in South Sudan, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said on Wednesday. The mortar bombs came during fighting between South Sudanese troops and rebels who are fighting over oil production territory in the Upper Nile state in South Sudan.

The blast occurred late on Tuesday in the town of Melut at a UNMISS base where over 1,000 people had taken shelter.

“I want to remind the parties of their obligation to take all measures not to harm civilians and guarantee the safety of international aid organizations and United Nations personnel and assets” said Ellen Margrethe Loj, the head of the UN mission in South Sudan.

Fighting in Upper Nile and also the neighboring Unity state has intensified of late as the rebels seek to wrest control of the oil production zones from the government of South Sudan. The area's Paloch oil fields are among the last still functioning in South Sudan, which depends on oil as a valuable part of its economy.

Ban calls for accountability

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on Wednesday "deploring" the civilian deaths in Melut and condemning "the escalation of hostilities in the past ten days between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA in Opposition and their allied forces in Unity and Upper Nile States."

The SPLA is the national army loyal to President Salva Kiir, while the rebel SPLA in Opposition sides with former vice president Riek Machar. South Sudan has been mired in a civil war since 2013 when Kiir accused his then-deputy Machar of attempting a coup. Since then, fighting has continued along ethnic lines between the ethnic Dinka supporting Kiir and the Nuer supporting Machar. Multiple peace plans have failed to take hold.

Ban also called for a national investigation into the four civilian deaths "so that those responsible for these crimes are held accountable by their respective leadership."

UNICEF details violence against children

On Monday, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released a statement that outlined the extent of the most recent surge in violence in Unity and Upper Nile states. It said eyewitness accounts showed entire villages had been burned to the ground, with women and girls as young as seven raped and killed.

"Dozens of children have been killed, at least 12 raped and others abducted and recruited in a series of attacks in South Sudan's Unity State over a two-week period," UNICEF said Monday. It also said "children have been both the victims and perpetrators of recent violence in Unity State."

The UN estimates that 13,000 children have been recruited and are being used by all sides of the conflict. UNMISS civilian sites are hosting over 120,000 internally displaced persons in South Sudan.

mz/bw (Reuters, AFP)

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