Villagers in southern South Sudan said SPLA soldiers went on a rampage in the Oming area this week after unidentified gunmen had earlier staged an attack that killed eight troops and wounded five others.
Imatong State's governor, however, denied the soldiers went on a rampage, but he did confirm that a commander and a soldier had been killed in an attack. The different death tolls could not be reconciled.
Oming-area residents in Torit East County said suspected rebels over the weekend had raided a police station about 50 kilometers from Torit and had stolen several rifles.
Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers were sent to the area Tuesday to track down the suspected rebels, but they were ambushed at Okuma Mafi, the villagers said.
Imatong State Governor Alberio Oromo denied the soldiers had been sent to the area to search for the suspects. But he said an SPLA commander, Colonel James Wor, had been killed by rebels as he traveled to a base in Kapoeta, about 120 kilometers east of Torit.
"He was shot. His bodyguards were also wounded. A rescue team went from Kiyala to rescue him," Oromo said. Wor was reported dead at Torit Civil Hospital, he added.
Oromo said one other soldier was killed in the attack. He did not identify the soldier. SPLA spokesman Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang also confirmed that two SPLA soldiers, including Wor, had been killed in the attack.
Koang said "some armed elements" had blocked the road between Torit and Kapoeta and were "harassing civilians on the road." He said the soldiers had been sent to clear the roadway, and that is when the ambush occurred.
The bodies were flown to Juba on Tuesday for burial, the governor said. Oming villagers in Torit East County, however, accused the SPLA soldiers of going on a rampage after the ambush Tuesday, harassing civilians and burning down houses.
SPLA spokesman Koang denied the accusations, saying he had no information that soldiers had gone on a rampage. He said "negative rumors" were being spread.
"SPLA is carrying out surgical operations to ensure civilians are not affected," Koang added. "We are only targeting those responsible for causing insecurity on the road."
Oromo said an armed group had blocked the road, preventing humanitarian aid from reaching villagers affected by the ongoing regional conflict.
He said commuters along the Torit-Kapoeta road had been harassed for several days, and that the road still might not be safe for travelers.
Oromo insisted, though, "Within Torit town, the situation is normal, and people are going on with business, because the [attack] did not happen within Torit but far in Torit East County."