New outbreaks of violence roiled South Sudan Friday, when officials in Jonglei state said 18 people were killed in an attack in the northeast of the state and authorities in Northern Bahr el Ghazal said more bodies were found after fighting there.
Dau Gueny, the commissioner of Jonglei state's Pigi County -- formerly Canal County -- said armed men loyal to opposition leader Riek Machar attacked and killed residents of Cuei village on Wednesday, stole herds of cattle, and burnt huts to the ground.
Killing and looting by deserters
"Eighteen civilians are dead and six people are wounded," Gueny said.
"Among the dead and wounded, there are children and women, and these rebels looted cattle in seven villages," he said.
Lul Ruai Koang, the opposition military spokesman, rejected Gueny's version of the attack. Koang said government forces attacked a different village, Mareng, and stole cattle before being pushed back by opposition forces.
"The government forces crossed over from eastern bank of Sobat River to the southern bank of Sobat River and they attacked a number of places including Mareng and then they killed civilians," Koang said.
"I was the first to report that civilians under our control had been attacked and that four were killed -- three women, one man -- and two other men were wounded and some cattle were stolen," he said. "They are not our forces that attacked civilians; government forces attacked civilians on our side."
Pigi County has no mobile telephone network and it was impossible to independently verify the claims by the two sides.
Death total doubles in Northern Bahr el Ghazal
Meanwhile, officials in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state said the death toll from fighting between rebels and government forces has doubled after 35 bodies were found in Aweil North County.
Kuol Athuai, the county commissioner, said the bodies were those of SPLA deserters who went over to the rebel side and have been blamed for attacking villages and clashing with government troops.
The violence, which began last week, shattered a fragile peace in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, which has remained largely peaceful throughout seven months of conflict in South Sudan.
Defense Minister Kuol Manyang said the deserters have been roaming around the northwestern part of South Sudan, trying to get to Sudan, but Athuai said they never made it across the border because "our forces here destroyed them."
Athuai said there are still rebel forces hiding in the bush but added that he doubted they have the capacity to launch any attacks.
Garang Kuach Ariath, the commissioner for Aweil West County, where 29 people were killed in fighting between the deserters and government forces earlier this week, said life in the county is returning to normal.
One person was killed in an attack on a clinic and five more bodies were found in Aweil Centre on Thursday.
Lucy Poni reported from Nairobi, Abraham Agoth from Aweil