At least 200 South Sudanese civilians have drowned in a ferry accident on the White Nile river while fleeing fresh fighting in the northern city of Malakal. The victims reportedly included children.
Hundreds of South Sudanese boarded the ferry that could only accommodate some 80 passengers on Sunday, according to reports by the army and regional media published on Tuesday.
"People grabbed the sides, but when the boat capsized, only two people and the boat driver managed to reach the banks alive," local official Majok James Chol told Radio Tamazuj, adding, "This part of the Nile is wide and deep and has a strong current."
The civilians were reportedly fleeing fighting between government and rebel forces in the northern town of Malakal, the capital of the oil-producing Upper Nile state.
Chol also said rumors that forces loyal to rebel leader and former Vice President, Riek Machar, were about to attack prompted the panic to leave the city.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer told the AFP news agency, "The reports we have are of between 200 to 300 people, including women and children. The boat was overloaded."
Since fighting broke out on December 15 between soldiers loyal to South Sudan's president Salva Kiir and those loyal to Machar, some 400,000 civilians have fled their homes over the past month, according to the United Nations.
The Uganda Red Cross, meanwhile, said more than 46,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighboring Uganda in that same time period.
hc/dr (AFP, dpa)