JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - At least seven people have been killed and more than 40 others injured during clashes between youths from different ethnic communities sheltering at a U.N. compound in Malakal, South Sudan.
In a statement Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence and called on all parties to avoid stoking ethnic tensions. He urged South Sudan's government and rebels to implement the peace deal reached in August, "so that the people of South Sudan can begin a process of reconciliation and healing."
Ariane Quentire, the spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said fighting at the compound began Wednesday night.
“There was fighting between youth Dinka and youth Shilluk in the Protection of Civilians site in Malakal, and it went all the way throughout the night. It is still a very tense and volatile situation," she said. "There has been a lot of violence where the youth have been using machetes, arms and other weapons to fight each other.”
Quentire said U.N. military personnel had been using tear gas to disperse the combatants. She said U.N. peacekeepers also stepped up patrols in and around the camp to contain the situation.
Jacob Nhial, one of the internally displaced persons residing at the U.N. site, said the fighters were using machine guns and Kalashnikovs to shoot unarmed civilians.
“They [gunmen] are still inside the camp. They chased all people away, and community leaders are now collecting the vulnerable and the children,” he said.
Nhial said forces of South Sudan's army, the SPLA, were also involved in the shooting.
Lieutenant Colonel Marko Mayol, a spokesman for the SPLA, said he had not been informed about the latest conditions in Malakal. “I am not in a position to tell you exactly what is going on because I didn’t consult the authorities," he said.
UNMISS said the attackers were targeting people who were under the protection of the United Nations, a clear violation of international law.
“Attacking U.N. premises and not respecting the sanctity of U.N. premises, compounds and people living in this compound, being international or national workers or civilians we are protecting, constitutes a war crime," said spokeswoman Quentire.
The UNMISS camp in Malakal hosts an estimated 50,000 internally displaced people.
More than 2 million South Sudanese have been displaced since the civil war broke out in December 2013.