January 14, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese government said it is alarmed by the tragic deaths of more than 200 people, who died after their boat capsized as they were attempting to flee renewed fighting in Malakal, the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state.
- Women and children are believd to have been aboard a boat that sank in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, killing more than 200 people (AFP)
“We do not have full details, but the preliminary reports we have at the moment is that about 200 to 300 people have drowned into water. The boat was overloaded because they were rushing to escape the fighting”, the spokesperson for the South Sudanese army (SPLA), Colonel Philip Aguer, said on Tuesday.
Local residents and multiple military sources confirmed that heavy fighting broke out on Tuesday when anti-government forces aligned to former-president Riek Machar staged a fresh attack on the town, which has been the scene of armed struggle on two previous occasions.
While Aguer confirmed to Sudan Tribune that fighting had broken out in Malakal, however he denied claims the town had again fallen under rebel control.
The UN humanitarian chief in South Sudan, Tony Lanzer, took to Twitter as the security situation unravelled, confirming that the agency’s peacekeeping bases in the area had been swamped with almost double the number of people seeking refuge.
“Today there is fighting anew in & around Malakal, and the number of civilians seeking UN protection has soared from 10,000 to 19,000”, he tweeted.
Battles were continuing to rage in several towns despite the resumption of peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, which last week stalled amid disagreement over the release of political detainees loyal to Machar who are being held in connection to an alleged failed coup attempt in the capital, Juba, last month.
In New York, the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said he was alarmed by the increase of fatalities resulting from ongoing fighting in South Sudan, citing the drowning deaths of civilians.
Ban said he remained “deeply concerned about the rising number of displaced people in the country, which surpassed 400,000 this week, underlining that aid workers are facing challenges to provide humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected civilians.
The UN chief also strongly condemned “the commandeering of humanitarian vehicles and the theft of food stocks and other relief items by both government and anti-government forces”.