Doctors Without Borders said it has evacuated international staff from two towns in South Sudan because of intense fighting between the army and rebel groups.
The medical aid group, known by its French acronym MSF, said Thursday it removed foreign staff from the towns of Aburoc and Kodok, in the former Upper Nile state.
MSF’s country head of mission, Marcus Bachman, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that domestic staff will maintain essential medical services in the area as long they remain safe.
Renewed fighting broke out between opposition forces and the South Sudan Army in and around Kodok on Tuesday. Bachman said his team is treating gunshot victims as well as vulnerable women and children suffering from diarrheal waterborne diseases, pneumonia, and respiratory infections.
Bachman said some 25,000 new South Sudanese families arrived at a displaced persons’ camp in Aburoc this week, seeking shelter from the latest fighting.
“The population we are serving is fleeing … out of fear of being targeted in the conflict,” he said. “This is what the population is telling us, the fear of being targeted. They also share with us accounts where either family members or neighbors have been targeted in the conflict.”
MSF said Aburoc can only be reached by air because of unpaved or poorly maintained roads. In February, aid agencies stepped up air drops of relief items to the area, but fighting has interrupted some of those deliveries.
Colonel Santo Domic, deputy spokesman for the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), said the army launched attacks on rebel bases around Kodok this week and accused the rebels of denying residents access to the Nile River.
He said the army “liberated” Kodok and the town of Galacel on Wednesday.
Brigadier General William Gathjiath, spokesman for the rebel SPLA-In-Opposition, said government forces captured one of their bases, but denied Kodok and Galacel are now under government control.
“They have not even flushed our forces out of the town,” he said. “So if they are claiming that they have already captured the town, that’s not true.”
The head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, said the conflict in South Sudan can only be resolved through peaceful means.
He also said the decision by leaders from the East Africa region and South Africa to keep out rebel leader Riek Machar out of South Sudan could bring stability to South Sudan.
“The feeling very much within the region is that his role, in terms of bringing him back, wouldn’t necessarily be positive at this stage,” said Shearer. “So that’s the decision of regional governments and South Africa.”
At the same time, he said President Salva Kiir’s national dialogue should include rebels loyal to Machar.