JUBA - Officials in Northern Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan said Thursday that five more bodies have been found in Aweil Centre County, bringing the toll in fighting between soldiers who deserted the SPLA and government troops to 35.
Northern Bahr el Ghazal State spokeswoman Jackline Nyibol Benjamin Ajonga said it was impossible to identify the new victims of the fighting.
She said scores of civilians have fled their homes because of the fighting, which shattered a fragile peace in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. The state has until now remained largely peaceful, even as fighting has engulfed other parts of the country.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Aweil West County Commissioner Garang Kuach Ariath said 29 people had been killed in the fighting, all of them members of a military division that deserted from the South Sudan army. Four government soldiers were wounded.
Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk confirmed that soldiers who deserted two weeks ago from the SPLA’s Fifth Division in neighboring Western Bahr al Ghazal state were responsible for the fighting. He said the deserters have been roaming around the northwestern part of South Sudan, trying to get to Sudan, and have been attacking villages and towns to get food.
Santino Mayuat Ngong, who represents Aweil Centre County in the state legislature, said the deserters also looted a medical clinic in the area last week, killing one person and taking two others hostage.
SPLM-in-Opposition military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said Wednesday he has not received any reports of fighting in Northern Bahr al Ghazal state. He also expressed doubt that opposition forces were responsible for looting the clinic or for the alleged abductions.
"Looting and abducting people is not part of our culture," he said, blaming the alleged abductions on nomads.
Looting has been widely documented during the seven-month conflict, particularly in states that have been hard hit by the conflict, such as in Upper Nile and Unity.
Abductions are not unheard of either, and have in the past been blamed on now- disbanded rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army and cattle raiders.