Army defections as violence in South Sudan spreads from the capital to rural Jonglei state

A South Sudanese army official says clashes among military factions have spread to the rural state of Jonglei in escalating violence that the government blames on forces loyal to a former deputy president.

Military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer told The Associated Press Wednesday that there was fighting overnight among troops in Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan.

Casie Copeland, South Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group, said army officers from the Nuer ethnic group of former Vice President Riek Machar — who is now being sought by the military for his alleged role as coup leader — are defecting in Jonglei. She said that "the situation is no longer contained to Juba."

U.N. diplomats say that as many as 500 people have died in the fighting.