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South Sudan battles rage in key oil town of Malakal

South Sudan’s government reported that more than 200 people fleeing Malakal died when an overcrowded ferry capsized

Published: Updated:

South Sudan’s army clashed on Wednesday with rebels in the streets in the key northern town of Malakal, the army said, according to Agence France-Presse.

“There is heavy fighting in Malakal,” Philip Aguer, an army spokesman said, dismissing rebel claims they had taken control of the town.

“This is not over yet … The fighting is ongoing,” he added.

The battle for Malakal, the main town in Upper Nile state, is turning into one of the most bitter in the conflict, with the United Nations reporting tank battles in the streets, AFP reported.

On Tuesday, rebel forces staged an attack to seize the oil rich town, which has already changed hands twice since the beginning of the conflict.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the South Sudanese army and opposition rebels for stealing food and humanitarian supplies as the country's conflict escalates.

The U.N. chief “strongly condemns the commandeering of humanitarian vehicles and the theft of food stocks and other relief items by both government and anti-government forces,” Martin Nesirky, his spokesman said, according to AFP.

Ban expressed his concern regarding the increasing death toll in the month-old confrontation between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar and said that the U.N. will not help either side of the conflict.

Ban expressed his criticism after the U.N. mission in the country reported dozens of people who took refuge at a U.N. camp had been injured in clashes between Kiir and Machar's forces.

Earlier on Tuesday, South Sudan’s government reported that more than 200 people fleeing Malakal died when an overcrowded ferry capsized.

“The secretary-general is alarmed by the rising number of fatalities resulting from the continuing fighting in South Sudan,” including the ferry disaster, Nesirky said.

“He is also deeply concerned about the rising number of displaced people in the country, which surpassed 400,000 this week, and the challenges humanitarians are facing in providing life-saving assistance,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ban renewed his call for a ceasefire to give a chance to negotiations brokered by the East African region’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

“He reiterates that those responsible for attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers and UN personnel will be held accountable, and that the United Nations will continue to actively protect civilians applying strict impartiality,” Nesirky said.

The United Nations had been providing limited logistical support to the government Sudan People's Liberation Army until the Dec. 15 outbreak of hostilities, according to U.N. officials.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the International Crisis Group and other aid groups.

The U.N. said 65,000 people have taken refuge in U.N. camps across the country and more than 430,000 have fled to Uganda and other neighboring countries.