UNITED NATIONS (AP) — More than 70 people were killed and dozens injured during weekend clashes between South Sudan’s army and armed civilians in north-central Tonj, the United Nations reported Tuesday.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan reported that “the violence was sparked by a disagreement over a disarmament exercise being conducted in the area.”
“During the fighting, the local market in Romich was reportedly looted and some shops were burned to the ground,” Dujarric said. “Many women and children fled in fear of their lives.”
The U.N. spokesman said a U.N. peacekeeping patrol is en route to the area to assess the security situation.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission is urging all those involved in the violence “to lay down their weapons and to help restore calm for the sake of their communities,” Dujarric said.
He said the mission is engaging political and community leaders and will support local reconciliation and peace-building efforts to prevent further conflict.
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after gaining its long-fought independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the world’s youngest nation slid into ethnic violence in December 2013, when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who belongs to the Nuer people.
Numerous attempts at peace failed, including a deal that saw Machar return as vice president in 2016 — only to flee the country months later amid fresh fighting. The civil war has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions.
Intense international pressure followed the most recent peace deal in 2018, and on Feb. 22 a coalition government led by Kiir, with Machar as his deputy, was formed. But peace still remains elusive.