South Sudan army shoots dead 10 protesters: U.N.

JUBA Sun Dec 9, 2012 11:24am EST

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan's army shot dead 10 people protesting against the relocation of a local council headquarters in the country's northwest over the weekend, the United Nations said on Sunday.

Human rights groups regularly accuse South Sudan's army, a collection of poorly trained former guerrilla fighters and militiamen, of human rights abuses.

The violence began after the army was deployed around Wau, the capital of the country's Western Bahr el Ghazal state, to dismantle road blocks set up by civilians protesting against the relocation of the municipal council headquarters, Liam McDowall, spokesman for the U.N. mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said.

The army opened fire when a large group of women and activists attempted to march to the governor's office to present a petition on Sunday, he said. It was not immediately clear what their specific grievance was.

"Reports we have are that the (army) fired at the crowd to disperse them and four people were killed," McDowall said, adding the U.N. also had reports on Saturday the army had killed six other people. The army and police declined comment.

McDowall said it was not clear if any people in the crowd were armed or if the army was provoked.

South Sudan split away from Sudan last year under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the north and south. The long conflict left the new nation severely underdeveloped and awash with guns.

(Reporting by Hereward Holland; Editing by Alexander Dziadosz and Stephen Powell)