At least 10 people were killed in the South Sudanese town of Wau on Monday, as ethnic militias went house to house searching for people from other groups, witnesses said.
Streets were deserted as families hid inside, residents told Reuters by phone. Some reported seeing killings.
Witnesses said the militias were aligned with the government’s side in the country’s ethnically-charged civil war. They accused army soldiers of blocking the main road to a civilian encampment protected by U.N. peacekeepers.
South Sudan’s deputy army spokesperson, Colonel Santo Domic Chol, said fighting had first broken out during a mutiny by soldiers at the town’s prison. He was awaiting more information, he said.
The fighting followed an ambush that killed a brigadier general and a colonel in Wau state over the weekend, a rebel spokesman based outside the country said.
“This morning the government forces were retaliating against innocent Fetid people,” he said, referring to a local ethnic group.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it is flying a surgical team to Wau.
“The ICRC has received multiple requests to assist medical staff in Wau with patients wounded in the violence,” a spokesman said.
Five residents, all of whom asked not to be named, described members of the president’s Dinka ethnic group searching for members of the local Luo and Fetid groups. The head of the military is also Dinka.
“We are still inside hiding,” said one man by telephone, speaking from a Wau neighbourhood called Nazareth. “I have seen four dead bodies of my neighbours.”
“Armed militias are moving from house to house,” one resident said. “It is an ethnic crackdown.” Another said he had fled an attack that had killed many people, including his cousin.
South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, fired his deputy, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Fighting since then has often split the oil-producing country along ethnic lines and created a patchwork of armed factions.
The country is awash with weapons after decades of conflict with neighbouring Sudan and local feuds over land.
In another part of Wau, a resident said they saw two bodies near a feeding centre and a couple killed beside the road as they tried to flee to a nearby civilian encampment protected by U.N. peacekeepers.
More than 200,000 people have taken refuge in such sites set up across the country after widespread ethnic killings, many by soldiers. Campaign groups have accused both sides of atrocities.
Two residents said soldiers had blocked off the road leading to the protected site in Wau. -BBC