Map of Western Equatoria state in South Sudan, showing the town of Maridi.
Map of Western Equatoria state in South Sudan, showing the town of Maridi.

JUBA - At least three people were killed when gunmen launched multiple attacks on a town in Western Equatoria, a South Sudanese state that, until recently, has escaped the conflict in other parts of the country.

John Ezekiah Paul, the executive director of Maridi County, told South Sudan in Focus the violence began late Sunday when a group of unidentified gunmen "attacked the slaughterhouse with grenades and guns," killing seven cows.

Paul said the local chief and slaughterhouse workers filed a police report about the attack early Monday. Hours later, another attack was launched at the local market.

"Unknown gunmen attacked the market and started shooting at people and breaking into the shops," he said. "Three people were killed including the chief`s son. An unknown number were wounded."

A female resident who fled the violence said she and other people from the town are hiding in the bush.

"There is no water here and everyone is hungry and thirsty. The children are the most affected," said the woman, who asked not to be named.

?Another resident described yet another attack in the town. This one targeted hundreds of townspeople who gathered with religious leaders in Maridi’s Freedom Square on Monday to pray for peace in South Sudan.  

A Maridi resident said she said she could still hear gunshots from her hiding place, about three kilometres from the town, at 5:30 p.m on Monday.

County executive Paul said police have been deployed to the area to try to restore calm.

The fighting took place hours before the warring sides in South Sudan's broader conflict were due to meet in Addis Ababa for another round of talks to try to end 18 months of fighting in South Sudan. The larger conflict, which erupted in December 2013, has been concentrated in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile. 

Kaltuma Vanesa reported from Washington, D.C.