Juba - At least 10 people have been killed after South Sudanese troops opened fire on demonstrators angry at officials moving the seat of local authority outside a state capital, the United Nations said on Sunday.
"The SPLA [army] opened fire" on protesters "demonstrating the excessive use of force," said UN peacekeeping mission spokesperson Liam McDowall.
Four people were killed in the town of Wau during clashes overnight on Saturday, while six more were shot dead on Sunday, he said.
However, there were conflicting reports as to whether some of the demonstrators may also have been armed.
"We are investigating the allegations of armed elements inside the demonstrations, as well as allegations of the disproportionate use of force by the army against civilians," Kella Kueth, an army spokesperson, told AFP.
Protests began after officials said they would move the seat of local authority out from Wau, capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal state, to a nearby smaller settlement of Bagare.
Troops were sent in on Saturday to remove protesters blockading roads leading out of Wau, while UN peacekeepers had been shuttling between demonstrators and the army to try to calm both sides.
"A number of protesters fled to the cathedral where they took sanctuary," McDowall said, adding that the army later surrounded the building and had to be persuaded back to their barracks by the Bishop of Wau.
The situation was "still tense" on Sunday, with authorities issuing a curfew from dusk until dawn, McDowall added.
South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, is awash with weapons after decades of war with Sudan, which it broke free from in July 2011.