Thousands of people in South Sudan have fled into neighboring Uganda after government forces launched an offensive against a border town in the southern parts of the world's youngest country.
According to desperate refugees, over 3,000 South Sudanese spilled over into Uganda on Tuesday after government troops stormed the border town of Pajok, located in the Magwi County of the Eastern Equatoria state, in a three-pronged assault and started shooting and slaughtering men, women and children indiscriminately on Monday morning.
There were no immediate reports on exact death toll and the extent of possible damage inflicted on the town. However, Mondaa, a pastor from Pajok, said the town, which is normally home to some 50,000 people, was “completely empty.” “If they catch anybody, they will kill them,” he added.
“If you ran, you got shot. If you got arrested you got slaughtered,” said another survivor.
The deadly attack by the army, known as Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), is the latest to hit southern towns near the Ugandan border as a three-year civil war has plagued almost the entire country.
The government forces are also blamed for torching thousands of homes in the southern region of Yei in late 2016.
South Sudan gained independence in July 2011, but descended into a bloody civil war in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his former Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him. The two sides then got involved in a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the impoverished country along ethnic lines between the rival communities of Dinka and Nuer, killing thousands of people.
A peace agreement convinced Machar to return to the capital, Juba, but a new wave of fighting broke out again in July 2016 in the African country.
Machar is currently in exile in South Africa after fleeing the new spate of violence. Numerous international attempts to reach a truce between the warring sides have failed.
The persisting conflict has so far killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions of others from their homes, divided much of the population along ethnic lines and crippled agriculture. According to the United Nations, the impoverished country is also facing famine.