JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Fighting between South Sudan's army and rebels in the capital of one of its oil-rich states is forcing U.N. personnel to remain inside a base where more than 20,000 frightened residents are seeking refuge, officials said Wednesday.
U.N. personnel are unable to leave the base in Malakal because of the fighting, said Joe Contreras, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in South Sudan. Ten people died at the hospital at the U.N. base on Tuesday. People inside the camp are reporting a water shortage, said a spokeswoman from the aid group Oxfam.
Rebels control some parts of town and government forces other parts, said South Sudan's military spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer.
"It is still very chaotic. Rebels are in parts of the south of Malakal and in the market. The SPLA is in the north and through to the east," he said, using an acronym for government troops.
Aguer said rebels are wearing civilian clothes, making it difficult for government troops to distinguish combatants from ordinary residents.
Malakal is the closest city to oil fields in Paloch, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) away.
Fighting broke out in South Sudan in mid-December between government troops and soldiers supporting the former vice president. The two sides, which have been negotiating in Ethiopia, agreed to a cease-fire in January, but that agreement does not appear to be holding.
The U.S. Embassy on Wednesday condemned the fighting as a "further blatant disregard" to a cease-fire agreement signed by the two sides last month.
"The fighting in Malakal endangers the lives of civilians and threatens further instability in Upper Nile State," the embassy said. "Armed conflict and violence will not solve this crisis."
New photographs show that more than 535 huts have been destroyed in recent fighting in Malakal in direct violation of the cease-fire, the U.S. advocacy group Satellite Sentinel Project said on Wednesday.
"The safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians — those fleeing the area, those trapped within the town, and those at a U.N. compound in Malakal — is immediately at stake," the group said in a statement. "The United Nations Mission in South Sudan compound, which currently houses 21,600 displaced persons, is now caught in the crossfire between rebel and government forces."