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Over 200 South Sudan civilians drown in ferry accident

Displaced South Sudanese women walk towards the United Nations Mission in South Sudan base in Malakal on January 12, 2014
Displaced South Sudanese women walk towards the United Nations Mission in South Sudan base in Malakal on January 12, 2014

At least 200 South Sudanese civilians have drowned in a ferry accident on the White Nile river while fleeing fresh fighting in the city of Malakal, an army spokesman said Tuesday.

"The reports we have are of between 200 to 300 people, including women and children. The boat was overloaded," army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP. "They all drowned. They were fleeing the fighting that broke out again in Malakal."

Aguer said the incident happened on Tuesday, although local media indicated it may have occurred overnight on Sunday.

Battles raged in several sites in South Sudan Tuesday.

Heavy fighting was reported in Malakal, state capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state, as rebel forces staged a fresh attack to seize the town, which has already changed hands twice since the conflict in South Sudan began on December 15.

A member of South Sudan's army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), sits outside the governor's compound in Malakal, on January 12, 2014
A member of South Sudan's army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), sits outside the governor's compound in Malakal, on January 12, 2014

"There is fighting anew in and around Malakal," United Nations aid chief for South Sudan Toby Lanzer said, adding that the peacekeeping base had been swamped with almost double the number of people seeking shelter, rising from 10,000 to 19,000.

The army reported heavy fighting south of Bor, as the government sought to retake the town from rebels, the largest in their control.

"We are marching on Bor, there was very heavy fighting late on Monday," Aguer said.

However, he rejected rebel claims to have captured the river port of Mongalla, situated between Bor and the capital Juba.

"We are north of Mongalla, we remain in full control there," Aguer said.

He also confirmed fighing south of the capital, around the town of Rajaf, on Monday.

According to the United Nations, some 400,000 civilians have fled their homes over the past month.

The fighting is between South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

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