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UNMISS: South Sudan Unrest Displaces 181,000

A general view of a camp for displaced people set up in a United Nations compound in Bor, South Sudan, Dec. 25, 2013.

A general view of a camp for displaced people set up in a United Nations compound in Bor, South Sudan, Dec. 25, 2013.

Around 181,000 civilians have been forced from their homes by 15 days of fighting in South Sudan, a spokesman for the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said Monday.

Just over a third of the displaced have sought refuge at 13 U.N. peacekeeping facilities around South Sudan, UNMISS Acting Spokesman Joseph Contreras told VOA News by telephone from Juba.

"The biggest numbers are concentrated in the national capital, in Juba -- around 25,000 in total -- and an estimated 22,000 in the Upper Nile state capital of Malakal, where heavy fighting reignited" on Sunday, Contreras said.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has launched immunization campaigns for polio and measles at the U.N. facilities where civilians have sought refuge, and food is being distributed at at least one camp, Contreras said.

Civilians Flee Bor

In Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, the number of displaced persons sheltering with the U.N. mission has gone down from a high of around 17,000 last week to 7,000-8,000 on Monday, Contreras said.

Reuters news agency reported that thousands of people have fled Bor after the government warned that groups of youths spotted by a U.N. reconnaissance team at the weekend planned to attack the town, which was recaptured last week by government forces from rebel fighters allied with former Vice President Riek Machar.

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement Monday that more than 70,000 people, mostly women and children, have arrived in Awerial, in Lakes state, after fleeing violence in Bor. The two towns are separated by 50 kilometers and the Nile River.

"With thousands more people arriving each day, living conditions are verging on the catastrophic," MSF said, calling for more medical and humanitarian assistance for South Sudan.

South Sudan's government claims the youths that the U.N. reconnaissance mission says it spotted around 50 kilometers northeast of Bor are members of the so-called "White Army" -- fighters from Machar's Nuer ethnic group who coat their skin with ash to make it appear white.

Contreras said it was impossible to tell if the youths were moving toward Bor or were "in a stationary holding pattern" near the town.

Currently, forces loyal to President Salva Kiir continue to control Bor, he said.

Violence broke out in the South Sudanese capital on Dec. 15, in what Kiir said was an attempted coup orchestrated by fMachar, and quickly spread around the country.

Kiir has agreed to a ceasefire deal brokered by regional African mediators, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Monday that East African nations have warned Machar to comply with the ceasefire or face action by regional nations.

The United Nations has estimated that at least 1,000 people have died in the violence, which many observers say has pitted members of Kiir's majority Dinka tribe against his rival Machar's Nuer ethnic group. But many fear that the estimated death toll is a conservative estimate and that far more civilians have died in the violence.

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