A boat carrying civilians desperately fleeing heavy violence in South Sudan sank while crossing the Nile River, killing some 200 people, a military official said Tuesday, as fighting between rebels and government forces moved closer to the capital.
Warfare in the world’s newest state has displaced more than 400,000 people since mid-December, with the front lines constantly shifting as loyalist troops and renegade forces gain and lose territory in battles often waged along ethnic lines.
A boat fleeing violence on the Nile carrying mostly women and children sank on Saturday, killing at least 200 people, according to Lt. Col Aguer, the South Sudanese military spokesman.
He also said there was fighting about 70 kilometres north of the South Sudanese capital of Juba.
Heavy fighting erupted in Malakal, the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state, which renegade forces briefly held before government troops retook it. The fighting began early Tuesday morning in the vicinity of the United Nations base in Malakal, with combatants using heavy machine-guns and tanks, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said at UN headquarters in New York.
Stray bullets are reported to have landed inside the UN base, wounding people who sought shelter there, according to Nesirky. As a result of Tuesday’s violence, he said, the number of people seeking refuge at the UN base in Malakal has nearly doubled to 20,000.
South Sudan has a history of ethnic rivalry, and its many tribes have long battled each other in recurring cycles of violence. The fighting often pits the Dinka ethnic group of President Salva Kiir against the Nuer group of Riek Machar, the former vice-president who now commands renegade forces.
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the latest fighting, according to one estimate by an International Crisis Group analyst.
Some of the fiercest battles have been fought in Jonglei, South Sudan’s largest state, where for months government troops had been trying to put down a local rebellion.