Heavy fighting between Government and rebel forces in South Sudan erupted close to a United Nations peacekeeping base in the northern town on Malakal today, and at least 32 civilians and two UN contractors who had sought shelter were reportedly injured by bullets that landed inside.
The base hospital was also considerably damaged, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported, noting that it is already protecting 22,000 civilians in Malakal.
Overall, UNMISS is sheltering more than 70,000 civilians who have fled to eight bases since conflict erupted between President Salva Kiir's forces and those of former deputy president Riek Machar on 15 December.
The fighting close to the Malakal base stopped late in the day, but continued with small arms fire in other parts of the town, UNMISS said.
"The Mission once again condemns any fighting taking place nearby its bases and calls on all parties to respect the integrity of UN installations and the safety and security of civilians taking refuge inside the bases and all UN personnel," it added in a statement.
Secretary-General ban Ki-moon has already demanded that all parties to the conflict respect the sanctity of UNMISS protection sites.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that 494,000 people are internally displaced and 86,100 have fled to neighbouring countries.
UNMISS, which the Security Council has ordered reinforced by another 5,500 troops, bringing its total to nearly 14,000, said it has conducted more than 140 patrols in the past 24 hours, including in various locations in the capital, Juba, as well as in Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states.
On 9 January, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said it could take up to eight weeks before the full 5,500-strong surge in UN force and equipment, including helicopters, is deployed on the ground.
But once they are there, UN peacekeepers, who currently lack the necessary vehicles, will take on "more proactive patrolling around the bases and beyond because, of course, the situation in terms of violation of human rights remains terribly critical," he added.