A mob of armed civilians pretending to be peaceful protesters delivering a petition to the United Nations in South Sudan forced their way into a UN base sheltering some 5,000 civilians and opened fire in the latest example of violence in a country that has seen months of fighting.
A UN source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 48 people had been killed and 60 wounded in the attack on the base in Bor in northern Jonglei state, where there are Indian and South Korean UN peacekeepers.
Dozens of civilians were said to be wounded, but the exact number of people killed or wounded had not yet been confirmed. Two UN peacekeepers were wounded repelling the armed mob, he said.
The attackers forced their way into a camp in Bor where more than 5,000 ethnic Nuers have sought safety since fighting broke out in South Sudan in mid-December.
“The assailants, a mob of armed civilians, came to the base under the guise of peaceful demonstrators intending to present a petition ... The armed mob forced entry on to the site and opened fire on the internally displaced persons sheltering inside the base,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, at UN headquarters in New York. Major Kuol Mayen Deng, of the South Sudanese military, said yesterday that Ugandan troops stationed in the region had been drafted in to protect the UN base at Bor.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than one million displaced since fighting erupted, triggered by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar. The conflict in Africa’s newest country took on a tribal dimension as Mr Kiir’s Dinka supporters fought Mr Machar’s Nuer tribesmen for control of strategic towns before a ceasefire was signed on 23 January.
Sporadic clashes between both sides after the ceasefire deal erupted into full-blown combat this week, when the rebels seized Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state. Bor has changed hands a number of times between the military and rebels.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, strongly condemned the attack on a site where civilians are being protected by foreign peacekeepers. Mr Ban said any attack on UN soliders “constitutes a war crime”.
Ateny Wek, South Sudan’s presidential spokesman, said the government was still receiving information about the attack but called it a “very, very bad situation”.
Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, condemned all recent attacks on civilians and the United Nations in South Sudan, saying “particularly egregious is [the] armed attack on an [UN] compound in Bor by a heavily armed group that used rocket-propelled grenades”.
“All parties should regard [UN] sites as inviolable, and should afford protection to citizens sheltering at those locations,” Ms Power added.
Perry Mansfield, who heads the aid group World Vision in South Sudan, said staff in the border town of Renk were caught in crossfire and could not safely access the UN base. “Renk was a stable place far from the conflict where parents could bring their children to safety while fighting continued. Now they are forced to run again,” he said.
Earlier this week, Mr Ban said that up to one million Sudanese people faced potential famine-level hunger because of the fighting. The planting season is under way across the country but few are actively farming.