At least 38 people were killed during clashes between soldiers and civilians refusing to be disarmed as part of a peace agreement in South Sudan, officials said Tuesday.
Clashes erupted when soldiers of the South Sudan People’s Defense Force tried to disarm civilians in the town of Tonj East in Warrap State as part of a recent peace agreement, the town’s councillor James Mabior Makuei said.
Some civilians refused to hand over their guns at a market in Tonj East on Sunday, with a number of bystanders joining the fight that ensued, Mabior said.
The fighting quickly spread to nearby villages, with armed civilians attacking an army base in the nearby town of Romic on Monday morning, said army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang.
“Casualties are heavy on both sides. The death toll is likely to rise because some civilians are still missing,” said Mabior.
Koang said the army had withdrawn from the area on Tuesday in an attempt “to minimize further escalation.”
The disarmament of civilians is part of a peace agreement signed between South Sudanese President Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar in February after many months of negotiations.
Kiir and Machar agreed to form a government of national unity in which both are holding key leadership positions.
So far, a partial unity government has been formed and state governors have been appointed but parliament has yet to be reconstituted.