NAIROBI, Kenya – South Sudan security forces have forcibly removed about 5,000 civilians who had been sheltering in a church from fighting in the country's civil war, residents and church officials said Friday.
The western town of Wau has seen ethnically motivated attacks by government troops and allied militia in recent days, with the United Nations reporting at least 16 people killed and more than 23,000 displaced. The dead included three local contract workers with the World Food Program.
Government troops surrounded the Episcopal Church of South Sudan of Wau on Thursday, Archbishop Moses Deng Bol told The Associated Press. National security officials forced civilians into government vehicles, another church leader said.
One resident said the church was deserted Friday, with the displaced people having scattered to a nearby United Nations base and a new government-created site.
The church leader and the resident spoke Friday on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
National Security Service spokesman Ramadan Chadar refused to comment on the allegations. Government officials have long threatened to forcefully relocate civilians from the church because it is located next to a government building.
At least 25,000 people are now living in the U.N. protected area in Wau.
Tens of thousands have been killed since South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013. Since July, when fighting erupted in the capital, Juba, ethnic violence has spread across the country, and the U.N. has warned of genocide.
A United States-led attempt to impose an arms embargo on the nation was blocked in the U.N. Security Council late last year.