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Fighting spreads near flashpoint South Sudan town, may escalate

JUBA--South Sudanese soldiers clashed on Wednesday near the flashpoint town of Bor in fighting that has spread from the capital, raising fears of a broader civil conflict in the two-year-old nation.

An official in Bor, north of Juba, said soldiers attacked each other at two military barracks and one journalist said troops loyal to Vice President Riek Machar now controlled them, suggesting violence was increasingly running along ethnic lines.

Soldiers in the capital Juba have clashed since Sunday, killing up to 500 people, in what President Salva Kiir said was an attempted coup launched by Machar's supporters.

The president sacked Machar in July and political tensions have simmered since then in the oil producing nation.

According to the online journal Sudan Tribune, Machar denied any role in the fighting or any coup attempt.

In Bor, where Nuer soldiers loyal to Machar in 1991 massacred hundreds of Dinka, the ethnic group of Kiir, the locals feared the fighting could spill beyond the barracks.

“Last night there was fighting in two military barracks,” Hussein Maar, deputy governor of Jonglei state, told Reuters, although he said the town of Bor was calm.

A journalist in Bor told Reuters by telephone that troops led by commander Peter Gadet, a Machar ally, had taken control of the bases, abandoned by the outnumbered Dinka soldiers. But details were sketchy and according to another account only one base was in the hands of Machar's allies.

The United Nations in South Sudan reported fighting on Wednesday morning in Bor area, saying on its Twitter feed that more than 1,000 civilians sought refuge in the U.N. compound.

A broader conflict could threaten vital aid and be exploited by neighboring Sudan, which has had persistent rows with Juba over their undefined borders, oil and security. That would further hurt efforts to build a functioning state in the south.

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