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World's newest country, South Sudan, faces major instability

South Sudan

Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 11:00pm

A town engulfed by fighting in South Sudan remained tense Thursday as peacekeepers and police deployed patrols and "a significant number" of people who had fled to safety stayed at a U.N. base, officials said.

The discord erupted in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el-Ghazal state in the newly independent country. The violence reflects the growing pains of the new nation, which became independent from Sudan last year.

The unrest started last week after a decision to switch the seat of the local government headquarters from Wau to nearby Bagarre stirred anger, government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters in the national capital, Juba, on Thursday.

Security forces killed 10 people amid rioting. Demonstrators attacked a bank and others businesses Saturday and Sunday, he said.

Relatives of those killed abducted 28 farmers thought to be aligned with the state government, Benjamin said. The discovery of the bodies of six of the farmers spurred more violence Wednesday.

There was no official word on the number of people killed Wednesday. It is believed at least two people died in the violence, but some news outlets reported higher tolls.

Peacekeepers with the U.N. Mission in South Sudan saw fires and a few hundred young people carrying sticks, spears and machetes, U.N. officials said. The mission deployed peacekeepers and armored personnel carriers to secure Wau's airport and patrol in and around the city.

About 5,000 people, mostly women and children, escaped the fighting and sought protection at a local base of the U.N. mission in Wau, officials said.

"Earlier today, many of those who sought U.N. protection and stayed overnight left the base to inspect their homes -- a significant number of civilians, mainly women, children and the elderly, remain in the U.N. base and continue to be protected," said U.N. spokesman Eduardo Del Buey at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The U.N. mission continues to safeguard the airport and has conducted patrols to assess the situation in the city and affected outlying settlements," Del Buey told journalists. "The mission is also redeploying additional peacekeepers to Wau in order to assist in the protection of civilians."

Del Buey said the U.N. Mission in South Sudan is urging authorities and community leaders to "exercise restraint and engage in peaceful dialogue in order to prevent a further deterioration of the fragile situation."

Peacekeepers are working closely with South Sudan -- which has sent more police to Wau and is investigating the violence, officials said.

South Sudan is the world's newest country. It became independent six years after the signing of a peace deal that ended the war between northern and southern Sudan.

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