Photo taken on Oct. 16, 2016 shows South Sudan's government troops patrolling in Malakal town, South Sudan. Fresh clashes between government and opposition forces near the northern town of Malakal have killed at least 56 over the weekend, a military spokesman said late Sunday. (Xinhua/Gale Julius)
JUBA, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- About 25 people have been killed in renewed fighting between government soldiers and rebels in the northern South Sudanese town of Leer, officials said Thursday.
Information Minister for Southern Liech State Peter Makouth Malual said clashes erupted early this week between government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO), which is loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, and continued until Wednesday.
Malual said at least 20 rebels and five government soldiers were killed in the fighting. He blamed the rebels for starting the violence.
"Since Nov. 19, the rebels have been attacking our positions in Leer. The government forces responded in self defense which led to heavy casualty on the rebels," Malual said.
"We are appealing to the rebels to give peace a chance and wait for the revitalization of the 2005 peace agreement instead of causing unnecessary suffering to our people," he added.
Santo Domic , deputy military spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), told Xinhua the fighting had flared up in several parts of South Sudan this week alone, adding that the army would give a detailed security report to the media on Friday.
Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesman for the SPLA-IO, accused government forces of launching multiple attacks on rebel-held areas across the war-torn country.
"The government provoked us in Leer and we have moved in to capture it from the government forces. Up now, we are still counting dead bodies. So we don't have the figures for those killed," Gabriel said.
South Sudan has been embroiled in more than three years of conflict that resulted in one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival leaders under United Nations pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity government in April, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July 2016.
The UN estimates that at least 4 million people have been displaced internally and externally.