Rebels attack South Sudan's Yei, four soldiers dead: governor

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Rebels attacked the South Sudanese town of Yei on Tuesday, killing at least four government soldiers, the state governor said.

Rebel forces in the country’s three-year-old civil war said the death count was higher and told civilians to leave the southwest town close to the border with Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“What the rebels are doing here is destruction and creating a situation where civilians suffer,” David Lokonga Moses, the governor of surrounding Yei River State, told Reuters.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 then plunged into civil war two years later after President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, sacked his deputy and long-time rival Riek Machar, a Nuer.

Fighting spread across the oil-producing nation, often along ethnic lines, forcing more than 3 million people to flee, according to the United Nations. Britain has said parts of the violence amount to genocide.

Lokonga said the rebels attack on the town about 130 km (80 miles) southwest of the capital Juba, killed four and wounded six soldiers.

Rebel spokesman, Lam Paul Gabriel, said it was unlikely the government side had lost only four: “It is too early ... when did they count them?”

Seven of his side’s fighters were missing, though it was unclear whether they were dead, captured or lost in the bush, he added.

“Civilians in Yei are being warned to vacate Yei town to avoid atrocities from the government militias. The government is regrouping to retaliate,” he said.

Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Andrew Heavens