JUBA , SOUTH SUDAN – The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) called on military commanders and political leaders Tuesday to end clashes in Western Equatoria state following the deaths of at least five people on Monday.
A joint team made up of South Sudan defense forces and Opposition Alliance forces was dispatched to Tambura to resolve the conflict, according to Major General Lul Ruai Koang, spokesperson for the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF).
Reports circulated that fighting erupted between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army In Opposition (SPLM/A IO) and SSPDF forces loyal to General James Nando.
There are varying accusations of who was involved in the fighting that has destabilized the region and led locals to flee the town of Tambura.
Koang said the fighting involved a few soldiers but not full compliments of troops.
“That was not a clash between the two armies, it was a clash between elements from both sides,” Koang told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus radio program.
But SPLM-IO spokesperson Major General Lam Gabriel denied that the fighting involves opposition forces. The SPLM-IO is the political wing of the opposition group.
Father Emmanuel Bie Gbafu, the local parish priest, relocated to a United Nations base in Tambura for safety reasons.
Displaced families are sheltering at UNMISS camps in Tambura, and thousands of residents have fled the fighting, Gbafu said.
Gbafu said he heard gunshots in Tambura beginning early Monday but did not know “who was fighting who.”
“We don’t know who is doing the killing, (but) civilians are dying,” Gbafu said.
The violence is endangering the town’s nearly 10,000 residents, creating the risk of further displacement and increasing humanitarian needs, according to an UNMISS statement.
The statement quoted UNMISS chief Nicholas Haysom as saying it is “vital” that national and local political leaders “take urgent action to resolve tensions and bring communities together to avoid further loss of life, homes, and livelihoods.”
Aid workers are “caught in the crossfire while trying to carry out critical tasks,” Haysom said. He called on authorities to do more to ensure that aid agencies have safe access to people in need.
South Sudan’s Joint Defense Board vowed to end tensions by separating forces in the area.
“We know it’s civilian violence, but the presence of the IO and SSPDF in the areas is making the situation become more political,” SPLM-IO spokesperson Gabriel told South Sudan in Focus.
But Western Equatoria State Information Minister William Adriano Baiki said the conflict in Tambura is not between two ethnic communities but between warring forces.
VOA English to Africa service’s John Tanza contributed to this report.