by Denis Elamu
JUBA, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- The UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Thursday revealed that some 20,000 displaced persons remain missing after last week's renewed fighting between warring factions on the west bank of the Nile River in the northern Upper Nile region.
The head of UNMISS, David Shearer, described the lack of information about the situation of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a "real problem" after he visited the war-torn country's second largest town of Malakal - the epicenter of the recent violent fighting between government troops (SPLA) and rebels.
"UNMISS believes that the 20,000 people have fled towards Kodok from Wau Shilluk, a town eight miles north of the UN base in Malakal on the west bank of the River Nile.
Fighting between government SPLA forces and opposition forces has expanded geographically across the west bank over the past week, and shows no signs of abating, forcing more people to flee their homes," Shearer said in a statement.
He added that UN peacekeepers on Thursday attempted to carry out a foot patrol to Wau Shilluk, but were prevented from doing so by SPLA soldiers located at Wau Shilluk, a situation Shearer described as "very frustrating."
"We want to find out what has happened to those people and provide them with assistance if they need it," he said of the displaced persons.
UNMISS has described government relocations by air of IDPs through Juba into Malakal as unsustainable if they are not also supported with humanitarian assistance on arrival.
UNMISS also added that the Shilluk population of Malakal has abandoned the town and 33,000 people are currently taking refuge in the camp administered by UNMISS.
"UNMISS is increasingly concerned that fighting is once again spreading across the Upper Nile region," it added.
Meanwhile, the SPLA spokesman Brigadier Lul Ruai Koang said he had not received reports on the latest clash on Wednesday between the warring factions in newly created Bieh state located in the north of the country.
South Sudan has been shattered by civil war that broke out in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Machar denied the accusation but then mobilized a rebel force.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 led to the formation of a transitional unity government in April, but was again devastated by fresh violence in July, 2016.
Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed, with over 2 million displaced and another 4.6 million left severely food insecure, since December 2013.