South Sudan: Fighting continues near major oilfield, 4 killed

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said four civilians were killed and eight others wounded.

FILE: A South Sudanese man walks past UN peacekeepers on 17 September 2014 in Juba. Picture: AFP.

JUBA - Four people were killed when two mortar bombs hit a UN compound and a site housing civilians in the town of Melut, near South Sudan's Paloch oilfields, and a state official said fighting between troops and rebels stretched into Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the rebel SPLA-in-Opposition told oil firms to shut down and evacuate workers from the Paloch oilfields and said its fighters had captured the site of a refinery under construction in Melut.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said four civilians were killed and eight others wounded in Tuesday's fighting when two mortar bombs landed in the UNMISS compound in the town of and a site housing civilians in Melut.

"UNMISS is deeply concerned by the overall escalation of the conflict, and once again calls on the government and opposition leadership to immediately cease all hostilities and resume negotiations with a view to signing a comprehensive peace agreement," it said in a statement.

Upper Nile Information Minister Peter Hoth Puach said that government officials had been evacuated to Paloch from Melut, where five soldiers had been wounded in fighting that was still going on.

He said that Melut and the refinery site were still in government hands, contrary to what the rebels said.

Hoth said government troops and tanks were deployed in Paloch and that foreign oil workers were leaving the oilfields but it was unlikely that the fields would fall into rebel hands.

"At the moment I am outside Melut and as I am speaking now there is fighting," Hoth told Reuters by phone. "It is just a threat from the rebels that they are in control of Paloch."

Thousands have fled their homes in recent days because of the violence and some 650,000 civilians are without access to aid in Upper Nile State, where Melut is located, and neighbouring Unity State, according the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan.

Forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy, Riek Machar, have been fighting for nearly 18 months in the world's newest state, which seceded from Sudan in 2011. Several ceasefires have been agreed and broken, and both sides accuse the other of violating the latest truce announced in February.

Oil firms in South Sudan include China National Petroleum Corp, India's ONGC Videsh and Malaysia's Petronas.

Hoth said there had also been fighting in two other towns in Upper Nile and in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State.