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Thousands flee South Sudan refugee camp

February 19, 2016

Tens of thousands have fled their shelters after ethnic groups clashed in South Sudan's Malakal. The violence began after alleged South Sudan government troops fired their guns inside the UN base.

Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Curtis

At least 18 people died and over 90 were wounded at a UN base in South Sudan's Malakal, UNHCR spokesman Andreas Needham told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

In a separate statement, the UNHCR said "up to 26,000 people may have been displaced by fighting that broke out on Wednesday (February 17) evening between ethnic Dinka and Shilluk at a site for internally displaced people in Malakal, South Sudan."

Aid organization Doctors without Borders (MSF) also reported two of its staff were killed in the attack.

Sudanese forces behind strike

Soldiers of the Sudan's People Liberation Army (SPLA) entered the protection of civilians (PPOC) site, which was housing nearly 48,000 people fleeing the civil war.

"Humanitarian partners on the ground reported shooting, looting of properties and burning of houses," UNHCR's Needham said. Some shots could still be heard on Friday morning.

Civilians and UN staff fled the area, carrying whatever they could. Vulnerable people were left unattended and many families were separated in the rush to escape the violence. UN peacekeepers had meanwhile taken control of the site and SPLA's soldiers had left, the agency said in its press release.

Rebels condemn violence

The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which has more than 12,000 peacekeepers protecting civilians in the country, said "such an attack against civilians and UN premises may constitute a war crime."

Rebel spokesman James Gadet condemned the "heinous crimes committed by the government" and called the incident "a violation of the peace agreement." But SPLA Spokesman Marko Mayol denied having any information on his troops fighting in the UN camp.

Civil war began in 2013 in South Sudan after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup. In a deal last year, the Dinkas under Kiir reconciled with Machar's Nuer ethnic group. Earlier this year, Kiir named Machar his vice president. However, Machar has still not assumed his post and peace remains elusive.

mg/jm (dpa, AFP)