UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers fired warning shots to deter fighters from a United Nations base in South Sudan after gunfire reached the compound, wounding dozens and killing at least one civilian seeking refuge there, a U.N. spokesman said on Wednesday.
The incident took place on Tuesday at the U.N. peacekeeping base in Malakal, a major transit point and administrative centre of oil-producing Upper Nile State, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
"One civilian seeking shelter in (the U.N.) Malakal base, in Upper Nile State, was killed by bullets after gunfire entered the U.N. base there yesterday," he said. "Dozens of civilians and a U.N. military officer suffered gunshot wounds inside the base yesterday and received medical attention."
"The mission said that peacekeepers fired multiple rounds of gunfire to deter anyone engaged in fighting from coming too close to its base, in order to protect civilians," he said.
Nesirky said on Tuesday that U.N. peacekeepers were protecting more than 65,000 civilians who have sought refuge at U.N. bases across the country.
"Today, the mission reports that the fighting has stopped in Malakal, but the situation remains fluid," he said, adding that "sporadic gunfire can still be heard some distance from the U.N. base, where it is now protecting some 20,000 civilians."
"The mission also continues to report loud explosions and gunfire in the vicinity of its base in Bor, where it is protecting 9,000 civilians within the U.N. base," Nesirky said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday accused South Sudan's army and rebels led by former Vice President Riek Machar of stealing food aid and vehicles used to deliver humanitarian relief as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.
Fighting that erupted in mid-December has reopened ethnic rifts. According to one estimate, the conflict may have killed as many as 10,000 people, although there is no official toll for those killed in the desperately poor nation. The United Nations has said that well over 1,000 people have died.
Over 400,000 people have fled their homes because of the fighting in the world's youngest nation, the world body says.
The crisis erupted after South Sudan President Salva Kiir fired Machar and other ministers last year. Machar's rebels are demanding the release of 11 of their political allies jailed after they were accused of attempting a coup.
South Sudan split from Khartoum in 2011 as part of a 2005 U.S.-backed peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Andrew Hay)