New York, US - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday expressed his deep concern at the recent reports of renewed heavy fighting in South Sudan’s north-eastern city of Malakal.
Ban noted the catastrophic consequences for civilian populations and urged all parties to abide by the ceasefire that was agreed in late January, to respect international humanitarian law, and ensure that civilians were protected.
A patrol earlier conducted by the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS), stated that, 'the town has been looted and is generally empty of civilians'.
UNMISS reported that it conducted a patrol to Malakal town, in Upper Nile state, to assess the situation, after the recent wave of fighting which began on 18 February, when pro-government and opposition forces clashed near the Mission’s compound.
Simultaneously, inter-communal fighting broke out within the UNMISS compound, where 21,568 internally displaced persons are seeking refuge.
UN spokesperson, Mr. Farhan Haq, told reporters in New York that mission observed 'Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in opposition forces and armed youth on the streets as well as opposition elements along with some South Sudanese National Police and other uniformed personnel at a former SPLA checkpoint'.
'The Mission patrol further noted that Malakal town had been looted and appeared to be generally empty of civilians,' Mr. Haq said, adding that UNMISS said that it counted more than 50 bodies in various parts of the town.
Further, the spokesperson said, the Mission reported sporadic firing close to its Malakal compound. UNMISS responded by moving armoured vehicles to the spot.
He said that two women were reported to have sustained wounds, and had been admitted to the UN hospital inside the base.
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that aid organisations were concerned by reports from civilians in Malakal that a number of people had been killed this week at the Malakal Teaching Hospital, including those who sought shelter at the facility.
Access to the hospital is currently restricted due to insecurity in the town and aid agencies have not yet been able to verify the reports first-hand.