Nairobi — Officials in South Sudan say armed youths attacked people taking refuge in a United Nations compound in the capital of Jonglei state. Fighting in the nation threatens the most vulnerable populations.
A spokesman for South Sudan's opposition forces, James Gatdet Dak, says the youths overran the U.N. compound in Bor on Thursday and began indiscriminately shooting at civilians inside.
"This is very unfortunate, and these are mainly women and children," he said. "Innocent women and children. We condemn in the strongest terms possible this barbaric attack and massacre of unarmed innocent civilians."
The number of those killed or wounded is unclear.
On Twitter, U.N. Humanitarian chief for South Sudan Toby Lanzer says he is "outraged by the attack."
Tens of thousands of civilians have been sheltering at U.N. bases across the country since fighting broke out in December following a rift between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar.
The government's military spokesman, Colonel Philip Aguer, says he heard reports of Thursday's attack but did not know any details, calling it a "very unfortunate and unacceptable incident" that needs to be investigated.
Aguer also says government forces - known as the SPLA - are moving toward the key oil town of Bentiu, which rebels seized on Tuesday.
"Forces of the SPLA are encroaching into Bentiu town and any time the rebels will be out of the town," he said.
Aguer accused Sudanese militia, including the Khartoum-backed Janjaweed, of supporting the rebels who took Bentiu, which is close to the border with Sudan.
Bentiu is the capital of the Unity State, a major oil-producing region, although production has been stopped there for several months.
Anti-government forces have threatened to take control of the remaining oil fields in the country, and have ordered companies to stop production and evacuate staff.
The U.N. says more than 800,000 people have been internally displaced by violence in South Sudan, and warns that the upcoming rainy season will put more people at risk of food insecurity.
On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said without immediate intervention up to a million people could face famine in a matter of months.