Five Indian peacekeepers and at least seven United Nations civilian staff were killed yesterday in an ambush in South Sudan, officials said, a day after warnings about spiralling violence.
"Five peacekeepers from India with UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) were killed in ambush in Jonglei," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin wrote on Twitter, adding that four had been wounded.
He confirmed the deaths at the hands of unknown "rebels" and said the soldiers had been killed while "escorting a UN convoy".
UNMISS reported that "at least nine additional peacekeepers and civilians were injured in the attack and some remain unaccounted for."
The nationalities of the civilians killed were not immediately available.
The soldiers were escorting a UN convoy near the town of Gumuruk in Jonglei, a remote state hit hard by a cycle of cattle rustling, tribal violence and fighting between government forces and insurgents.
"[The peacekeepers] were in a group of 32 when they were attacked," Akbaruddin said. "We came to know five were killed."
Hilde Johnson, the top UN official in South Sudan, "condemns in the strongest terms the killing today of a number of peacekeepers and several civilian staff in an ambush by unidentified assailants", the UN said.
The eastern state of Jonglei has been the scene of widespread ethnic conflict since South Sudan became independent in July 2011, with bloody battles between rival tribes, including the Dinka, Lou Nuer and Murle people.
Much of the trouble has been in Pibor county, where the UN peacekeeping force is based.
Bloody clashes between the army and a former theology scholar turned rebel called David Yau Yau from the Murle people have devastated large parts of this troubled region.
An Indian soldier was shot and wounded in March.
"Without stability and peace in Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, in the long run stability also in the country could be at risk," Johnson said on Monday.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters