Some 26,000 people have reportedly fled a refugee camp in South Sudan after ethnic clashes broke out at the UN facility, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said Friday.
At least 18 people have died and more than 90 have been wounded since the fighting between ethnic Dinka and Shilluk broke out Wednesday in the camp in Malakal, UNHCR spokesman Andreas Needham told reporters in Geneva.
Shots were fired in the camp for people displaced from their homes within South Sudan after the Sudanese army entered on Thursday, he said.
"Humanitarian partners on the ground reported shooting, looting of properties and burning of houses," he said, adding that the fighting had subsided but that there were still some gunshots on Friday morning.
When fighting broke out between displaced Shilluk and Dinka youths in the camp, UN forces immediately intervened, the UN mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a statement.
But men reportedly wearing government army uniforms also fired into the camp, the mission said. "UN troops exchanged fire with them and eventually pushed them outside of the UN compound," according to UNMISS.
Among the 18 fatalities were two staff members of the international medical group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) who were attacked in their shelters, the organization said in a statement.
Three hours of fighting forced about 600 people to seek safety inside the MSF hospital, it added.
The camp that had housed nearly 48,000 people has been heavily damaged. UNHCR has been unable to verify how many people have really fled.
MSF representative Marcus Bachmann demanded that "armed groups stop these actions," while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminded "all concerned, including government security forces, of the inviolability of the United Nations compounds."
UNMISS said that an attack against the UN may constitute a war crime.
The UN is housing about 200,000 people in six camps in South Sudan, where a military power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 2.3 million people.
A peace agreement signed in August has stopped most of the fighting between the government and rebels, but militias continue to operate in South Sudan.
Ban's spokesman said "the secretary-general notes with concern the rising inter-communal tensions between the Dinka and Shilluk" and "warns all parties against stoking ethnic disputes."
The South Sudanese conflict has had a strong ethnic component, with massacres reported between Kiir's Dinka and Machar's Nuer ethnic groups.