JUBA (AFP) – Four Kenyans were among the 12 people shot dead by gunmen who attacked a United Nations convoy in South Sudan on Tuesday, officials said Wednesday.
Five Indian peacekeepers were also killed when some 200 attackers — some armed with rocket-propelled grenades — ambushed the convoy in the troubled eastern region of Jonglei.
Two South Sudanese working for the UN and a compatriot working alongside the Kenyans for a water drilling company were also killed, the company said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that attack could constitute a war crime.
“The peacekeepers were vastly outnumbered,” UN peacekeeping spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero told AFP. “It was a deliberate and targeted attack.”
Bose Reddy, manager of the company drilling water boreholes for the UN, said that five of his employees had been killed, four Kenyans and one South Sudanese.
“We are completely shocked,” Reddy told AFP in Juba.
Nine people were also wounded in the attack.
“Two are badly injured, two are critical,” said Ariane Quentier, spokeswoman for the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), adding that those wounded were being treated in hospital in neighbouring Uganda.
The bodies of the Indian peacekeepers would be flown home later on Wednesday, she added.
The volatile eastern state of Jonglei has been the scene of widespread ethnic conflict since South Sudan became independent in July 2011, with bloody battles between rival tribes, including the Dinka, Lou Nuer and Murle people.
Clashes between the army and a former theology scholar turned rebel called David Yau Yau from the Murle people have devastated large parts of the troubled region.
Still reeling from more than two decades of civil war that left the region awash with guns and riven by ethnic hatred, traditional cattle raiding between rival tribes has escalated into a wave of brutal killings.
While South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer has blamed Yau Yau for the attack, the UN has said the attackers were “unidentified assailants”.
Amid renewed clashes between ethnic groups and government forces, UN troops have recently bolstered troop numbers in the region and stepped up patrols.
An Indian soldier was shot and wounded in Jonglei in March amid high tensions about an imminent government crackdown on rebels, while the army shot down a UN helicopter in December by mistake, killing all four Russians on board.
The UN originally said some staff remained unaccounted for, but all were later found.