South Sudanese rebels (SPLA-IO) on Wednesday blamed the killings of over 16 civilians on Monday in the border town of Pajok on government troops (SPLA) in fresh clashes that have further displaced thousands across the Ugandan border.

South SudanSPLA-IO deputy military spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel told Xinhua in an interview that among the dead include a community leader and a health worker who were publicly executed in the border town located 148 km southeast of the capital Juba. “They (SPLA) have broken down and looted all shops and grinding mills, parked vehicles and motorcycles have been lined up to be pulled to Juba. Network has been cut off to avoid communications. They have blocked Uganda border and took some civilians trying to cross to Uganda hostage,” Lam said. “Some (civilians) have ended up being killed for having been suspected to have associated with SPLA-IO. The government just wants to escape being blamed for killing those civilians. Those were all civilians not armed,” he added.

However, Deputy SPLA spokesman Brigadier Domic Chol Santino confirmed the operation to have taken place against rebels allied to former first Vice President Riek Machar and instead said those killed were armed bandits who were involved in looting and destruction of shops and property. The rebel spokesman added that the death toll could rise due to the nature of the attacks and the poor communication network in the remote area. South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013, pitting President Sala Kiir against his former deputy Machar after political dispute caused fighting to spread along ethnic lines between majorly Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Machar’s Nuer.

The fighting has since killed thousands and displaced more than two million from their homes with the United Nations Refugee agency confirming 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries. A peace agreement signed in August 2015 to end the more than three years of conflict was shattered following renewed July clash last year, and the UN agencies declared in February a man-made famine with 100,000 people starving and further one million on the brink in the northern counties of Mayendit and Leer in northern Unity state.

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh