South Sudan’s army clashed with a militia in the capital of oil-rich Upper Nile state, forcing thousands of people to seek refuge with the United Nations, a local official said.
Fighting between the army and a pro-government group led by Johnson Oloni erupted in Malakal late Tuesday after two soldiers were shot dead, the state’s acting Information Minister Gatluak Liphoth Dhieu said by phone. UN mission spokesman Joseph Contreras said civilians have fled to the mission’s compound for shelter.
Oloni said the clashes were between his bodyguards and those of the state governor, and left 18 people from his side dead. “It is not a tribal clash,” he said by phone. “In Malakal I am representing the chief of general staff and the president and I cannot cause the problems.”
South Sudan’s civil war, which erupted in December 2013 after a power struggle in the ruling party, is intensifying after leaders of the warring sides failed to reach a deal at March peace talks.
Oloni leads a militia previously aligned with the government that the UN earlier this year said abducted at least 89 schoolboys for use as child soldiers.
The warlord said he had ordered his guards to return to their posts and await investigations into this week’s violence.
In Washington, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged Secretary of State John Kerry to take action after the collapse of the peace talks, including imposing sanctions on more individuals “who are undermining the peace process.”
“South Sudan’s people continue to suffer, with many facing unspeakable brutality: almost two million displaced, and more than 2.5 million facing severe food insecurity,” said the House members, led by House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican.