200 drown as civilians flee South Sudan
By Waakhe Simon Wudu, AFP
January 15, 2014, 12:05 am TWN
JUBA -- At least 200 South Sudanese civilians have drowned in a ferry accident while fleeing fresh fighting between government forces and rebels, the army said Tuesday.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer said the disaster occurred when the overloaded boat, packed with women and children escaping the northern oil city of Malakal, capsized in the White Nile river.
“The reports we have are of between 200 to 300 people, including women and children. The boat was overloaded,” he told AFP. “They all drowned. They were fleeing the fighting that broke out again in Malakal.”
Aguer said the tragedy happened on Tuesday, although local media reported it occurred overnight Sunday.
The disaster is one of the worst single incidents to have been reported from the war-torn country, which has been wracked by conflict for a month following a clash between rival army units loyal to either President Salva Kiir or his former vice president Riek Machar.
According to the United Nations, some 400,000 civilians have fled their homes over the past month, many of them escaping a wave of ethnic violence. Up to 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting, aid sources and analysts say.
The army spokesman meanwhile reported that battles were raging in several areas of the country, signaling that the government's recapture of Bentiu, another key oil city in the north, had failed to deal a knock-out blow to the rebels.
Heavy fighting was reported in Malakal, state capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state, as rebel forces staged a fresh attack to seize the town, which has already changed hands twice since the conflict began.
“There is fighting anew in and around Malakal,” United Nations aid chief for South Sudan Toby Lanzer said, adding that the U.N. peacekeeping base had been swamped with almost double the number of people seeking shelter, rising from 10,000 to 19,000.
An AFP photographer who was in Malakal on Sunday said that the town was calm but that the remaining residents were huddled in the town center, too scared to return to their looted homes.
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