Thousands of people have sought shelter at the United Nations base in Malakal, the capital capital of oil-rich Upper Nile state in South Sudan, and scores have been treated for wounds sustained in four days of heavy fighting in the town, aid agencies and the United Nations said Friday.
“Over the last couple of days there has been sustained fighting. The team noticed an escalation in fighting on the 25th,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Head of Mission Michael White said.
Seventy patients have arrived at Malakal Teaching Hospital with gunshot wounds since Tuesday, he said.
MSF is working with local health officials to provide treatment to as many people as possible and plans to stay in Malakal for as long as its workers are not in danger, White said.
"Before this recent crisis, the health needs in South Sudan were already very large. Certainly, over the last week, they’ve become immense. Our biggest concern right now is being able to operate with our surgical teams in an environment that’s safe for our teams to work,” he said.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said around 12,000 people have sought shelter at their base in Malakal, and many of the civilians inside the base "have been injured by stray bullets during clashes" on Thursday.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer earlier this week acknowledged that government troops have been battling rebels in Malakal.
He told Reuters news agency that he expects government forces to regain control of the town by the end of the week. VOA has been unable to reach Aguer for comment Friday.
Oil fields in Upper Nile State are responsible for nearly 85 percent of the country’s petroleum production. Officials in the country’s other oil-producing state, Unity, have said that production in oil fields there was halted this week after foreign workers, who are key to South Sudan's oil industry, fled the area.
Fighting broke out in Juba 12 days ago and rapidly spread to around half of South Sudan's 10 states. The government said the clashes in Juba on Dec. 15 were a coup bid launched by former Vice President Riek Machar, but Machar has denied he had orchestrated an attempt to oust Kiir.