Armed rebels that South Sudan believes are backed by Sudan opened fire on a U.N. convoy on Tuesday, killing five U.N. peacekeepers from India and up to seven civilians, officials said.
South Sudan's military spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer, blamed the attack on fighters led by David Yau Yau, a rebel leader South Sudan's military has battled for months.
Aguer confirmed the deaths of five U.N. peacekeepers from India in the attack, and said five civilians also died. However, a U.N. official who demanded anonymity because of U.N. rules put the civilian death toll at seven.
Aguer said the attack took place on a convoy traveling between the South Sudanese towns of Pibor and Bor on Tuesday morning.
"Definitely this attack was carried out by David Yau Yau's militia," Aguer said. "They have been launching ambushes even on the SPLA for about six months now," he said, using the acronym for South Sudan's military.
Five Indian Army personnel, including a Lt Colonel were killed on Tuesday and four injured during a UN peacekeeping mission when their 32-member convoy was attacked in Gurmuck in the volatile state of Jonglei, South Sudan.
"The convoy, comprising 32 Indian soldiers, was attacked and the casualties included 1 Lt Colonel, 1 Junior Commission Officer and 3 jawans. There were also 4 wounded, of which 1 is of officer level."
The attack took place at 0930 hrs local time (12.35 IST).
"The Indian casualties, including the injured (together with other local civilian casualties) are being brought by 3 UN helicopters from Jonglei to Juba," official sources said.
While there will be emergency treatment for the injured in the UN mission hospital in South Sudan, the arrangements were being made to bring back the bodies of those killed, they said.
The sources also said India's Ambassador will be meeting with the Special Representative of the UNSG in South Sudan, Hilda Johnson to ascertain further details and to facilitate all arrangements, as necessary.
There are around 2,200 Indian Army personnel comprising two battalions, one based in Jonglei and the other in Malakkal, Upper Nile, on the border with Sudan.
Since South Sudan got independence in July 2011, it has witnessed ethnic strife, with Pibor county, the main base of UN peacekeeping force, being the centre of much of the violence.
Last month, an Indian soldier was shot there amid fears of a government crackdown.
India is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces around the world and has suffered losses in the past.
A U.N. spokesman, Liam McDowall, confirmed that peacekeepers were killed. He declined to give numbers.
The head of the U.N. mission in South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, condemned the killings of the U.N. peacekeepers in a brief statement.
South Sudan ended decades of civil war with Sudan in 2005 and peacefully formed its own country in 2011. But the south is still plagued by internal violence and shaky relations with Sudan. Leaders in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, deny that they are arming Yau Yau.