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20 Killed in Renewed Fighting Between South Sudan Army, Unknown Gunmen

FILE - South Sudanese government soldiers, shown in an October 2016 photo, and local police repulsed an early morning assault on Yambio, Nov. 10, 2016.
FILE - South Sudanese government soldiers, shown in an October 2016 photo, and local police repulsed an early morning assault on Yambio, Nov. 10, 2016.

Nearly 20 South Sudanese were killed and at least 10 others wounded Wednesday and Thursday in renewed fighting in Yei River state's Kaya, in Yambio, and in the former Upper Nile state. Government and armed opposition forces accuse each other of starting the attacks.

Residents of Yambio said they woke up to the sound of gunshots Thursday morning, causing panic across one area.

Gbudue State Information Minister Joseph Natale Sabun said anti-government forces attacked civilians, forcing government forces to intervene.

“Around 6 o'clock in the morning, rebels came and attacked a small area called Hai Kuba, a residential area in the heart of town," Sabun said. "Following that small attack, people started running from place to place. The areas which have been affected more seriously are Hai Kuba and Hai Ipiro."

Attackers repulsed

Sabun said police and government soldiers repulsed the attackers and police now control the town. He confirmed that some civilians were killed during the attack.

“There are about three to four injured and some dead," Sabun said. "And a place called Nakpere is also affected; maybe two to three people were killed there. Now our police forces are looking around collecting the dead.”

Sabun urged Yambio residents to stay calm, assuring them that government security forces have been patrolling the town to prevent further attacks.

In a separate incident in Yei River State's border town of Kaya on Wednesday, 13 people were killed, including government forces, according to state officials.

Calm in Kaya

Yei River State Information Minister Stephen Lado said the government forces acted in self-defense.

“[At] 6:30, there was an armed group that came and attacked Kaya," Lado said. "Where they started shooting in the morning, army and police in Kaya had to react in self-defense and they chased away the attackers. Three police were killed, three injured, and then 10 of these unknown men were gunned down."

Lado said Thursday that calm had returned to Kaya and other parts of the state, and that government forces were in full control of Yei River. He called on armed groups allied to the SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) to adhere to the peace agreement and to assemble in cantonment sites in the state.

“The government of Yei River state has put a priority for a peaceful dialogue. This is an attack that is coming to the government side,” Lado said.

Fighting confirmed

Dickson Gatluak, the SPLA-IO's military spokesperson, confirmed fighting occurred in Yambio and Kaya between government forces and armed groups allied to the SPLA-IO and its leader Riek Machar. He accused government forces of attacking SPLA-IO positions in parts of the former Upper Nile state and Unity state.

“They attacked our defensive positions around Kaya and our gallant forces managed to switch [shoot] them. ... Also the same incident occurred in Yambio. There are some clashes around Yambio and our forces also managed [to fend off the attackers],” Gatlauk said.

Gatluak declared that the 2015 peace agreement signed by President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Machar has completely collapsed.

SPLA spokesperson Brigadier-General Lul Ruai Koang would neither deny nor confirm reports of fighting in the three areas, saying he had not received any new information from South Sudan Army field commanders.