BOR, SOUTH SUDAN — Five U.N. peacekeepers who were killed in South Sudan's restive Jonglei state last week were shot dead by men armed with machine guns when they got out of their cars to try to negotiate with the attackers, a survivor of the assault said.
U.N. driver Samuel Pach said he survived the attack by jumping out of the truck he was in and running to the bush to hide.
"The rest who survived ran to the bush with me," he said.
Along with the five U.N. peacekeepers, all from India, seven civilian UN employees were killed in the attack, which happened around 12 kilometers (seven miles) outside the town of Gumuruk. Gumuruk lies about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Pibor, on the road to Bor, the state capital of Jonglei.
Pach said some of the attackers were wearing civilian clothing while others were in military uniform.
"That uniform I saw is from the northern army," he said, referring to the Sudanese army, which has been accused by Juba of supporting rebels fighting in South Sudan.
"Some of them were very young – 15 to 18. They were very young and they were so many," Pach said.
Pach was shot in the cheek during the attack. It took him two days to walk from the site of the ambush to Bor.
Pach faulted the peacekeepers for not doing enough to repulse the attack, but Hilde Johnson, the special representative for South Sudan of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denied the accusation.
“We are 28 soldiers and one officer fighting very hard against 200 attackers. And the fact that five of them were killed, and not all, shows – with the number of attackers, the arms they had, RPGs and everything - they fought tooth and nail to the last breath," Johnson said during a visit to Bor.
She says the UN’s peacekeeping efforts in Jonglei will continue, despite the attack.
Some 2,600 people died in clashes in Jonglei in the 20 months from January 2011 to September 2012, according to a U.N. tally.
In January this year, more than 100 people, mainly women and children, were killed in the state in one of the most deadly cattle raids in South Sudan in years. The attack has been blamed on rebels led by David Yau Yau.
The South Sudanese army launched an offensive against Yau Yau's rebel group last month, vowing to crush the insurgency before the end of the dry season in May.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan moved peacekeepers into the state ahead of the government offensive against the rebels.