A United Nations peacekeeper and nine civilians were wounded when an unknown number of South Sudanese army soldiers opened fire at the United Nations protection of civilians site in Malakal, an eye-witness and U.N. officials said Friday.
One of thousands of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, sheltering at the camp in Malakal, Tunguar Wuor, said the attack began Thursday afternoon when an SPLA soldier opened fire after being refused entry to the site.
"That SPLA soldier was having a gun in his hand. He was about to enter but he was seen by security personnel, who said he could not enter with the gun because nobody is supposed to enter into a U.N. compound with a gun," Wuor said.
"He was blocked outside, the door was closed and, from outside, he started randomly shooting, from outside to inside,” he said.
Wuor said at least nine civilians, including three children, were wounded in the shoot-out, although it has been impossible to confirm the toll with U.N. sources. He said the shooting lasted about 30 minutes and caused panic among some of the IDPs.
30,000 sheltering at Malakal camp
The U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said there are just over 30,000 civilians sheltering at the camp in Malakal.
UNMISS spokeswoman for South Sudan, Ariane Quentier, condemned the incident and called for a swift investigation. Quentier said the U.N. believes several SPLA soldiers were involved in the shooting but that they were not deliberately firing at the U.N. camp or the IDPs.
“There was what we believe are SPLA soldiers who were firing next to our compound, without targeting our compound," Quentier said, adding that one U.N. peacekeeper was "slightly injured" by a stray bullet during the shooting.
Army spokesman, Colonel Philip Aguer, admitted that there was a shooting incident in Malakal, but insisted it was not near the UNMISS camp.
"It was in Malakal," he said. "There was no firing near the UNMISS camp and there was nobody wounded there.”
Thousands of South Sudanese have sought shelter in UNMISS camps across South Sudan since fighting erupted in December 2013. The number of IDPs in the camp in Malakal has gone up sharply in recent weeks, following a surge in violence in Upper Nile state.
The reported shooting incident happened on the eve of the International Day of U.N. Peacekeepers, when the United Nations honors the more than 111,000 men and women serving under the blue flag of the United Nations in some of the world’s most dangerous places, including South Sudan.
The head of UNMISS, Ellen Margrethe Loej, said in a speech to mark Peacekeepers Day that 15 of the 126 peacekeepers who died in the line of duty last year were serving in South Sudan.