JUBA - More than 2,000 South Sudanese villagers reportedly have been relocated following an oil spill in a remote part of Northern Liech state.
Gatkouth Ruach says he and other villagers were moved to a different part of the state after a pipeline burst Nov. 7 in Budang County.
State Health Minister Kur Yai Nop denied anyone was relocated, saying there are no human settlements near the affected area.
"The people who are staying there are oil company staff. There is no community there, they are very far," Nop told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
But Ruach told a different story.
"When the leak happened, those who are in the area were relocated to another place from the oil-spilled area. Some of them are taken to Laloba, and others [were taken] to a place called Thirty Mile," he told South Sudan in Focus.
Ruach said his village was flooded with crude oil and many families and cattle were affected by the spill.
"People are staying close to it and with their cattle. It is affecting people, causing diarrhea and other diseases. Up to this week, the oil is full on the ground. Cattle are playing in it and children as well, and the children are now suffering," Ruach told VOA.
The ruptured pipeline is owned by Greater Nile Pioneer Operating Company, a Chinese-owned company that has refineries in Khartoum and Port Sudan.
Nop denies anyone was harmed by the leak and said the pipeline was repaired.
"It is not a big area. It is an area like an acre. It was sealed and hastily was put [down] and it was controlled. So it did not mix up by water supply being consumed by the community," Nop said.
But Ruach said the leaking oil ran into local streams and children bathed in the contaminated water.
"Children and older persons often go to bathe in these oil-contaminated streams. Even this stream flows into the river. So when they bathe in this water, after some time they experience skin irritation," Ruach said.
Last month, Petroleum Minister Daniel Chuang warned that several pipelines could burst because of corrosion and lack of maintenance. He made the comments shortly after an oil pipeline burst in Budang County's Roriak area.
When a child was born with a deformity in October in Northern Liech state, the baby's photograph was circulated widely on social media, prompting public debate on the effects of oil pollution on South Sudanese. The child was flown to Nairobi, Kenya, for medical tests.