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Fighting spreads to west of war-torn South Sudan


south sudanGunmen in war-torn South Sudan fought heavy battles Tuesday in the capital of Western Equatoria state, fuelling fears the nearly two-year-long conflict is spreading to new parts of the country.

Fighting was reported in Yambio, close to the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, a member of parliament for the region, Isaac Sumu, told AFP.

“People are fleeing away to places where there is no fighting,” Sumu said, adding the clashes in the town broke out on Monday.

There was no immediate response from the military, but army spokesman Philip Aguer told the local Eye Radio station the clashes were “people shooting randomly” whom he dismissed as “drunk and criminals that are trying to provoke the situation.”

The civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken country along ethnic lines.

Local radio stations said the clashes were between soldiers and a local youth militia known as the Arrow Boys, who last month reportedly aligned with Machar’s rebels.

The worst of the fighting so far has been concentrated in three states — Unity and Upper Nile in the north, and Jonglei in the east — often pitting Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups against each other.

In recent months however attacks have escalated in the far south, although it remains unclear who is behind the violence there.

Thousands have fled clashes into DR Congo in recent weeks, including Congolese refugees deciding South Sudan was now too dangerous to remain, the UN has said.

The army and rebels both reported clashes in recent days in Western Bahr el Ghazal state, around the town of Wau.

The army and rebels have repeatedly accused each other of breaking an internationally-brokered August 26 ceasefire, the eighth such agreement aimed at ending the nearly two-year long war.

Both sides are accused of perpetrating ethnic massacres, recruiting and killing children and carrying out widespread rape, torture and forced displacement of populations to “cleanse” areas of their opponents.

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