Five Indian peacekeepers escorting a United Nations convoy in South Sudan have been killed in an ambush by rebels, according to the Indian foreign ministry.

"Five peacekeepers from India with UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] killed in ambush in Jonglei," Syed Akbaruddin, foreign ministry spokesman, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

He confirmed the deaths to the AFP news agency and said the soldiers had been killed while "escorting a UN convoy".

Jonglei has been the scene of widespread ethnic conflict since South Sudan became independent in July 2011. Much of the trouble has been in Pibor county, where the UN peacekeeping force is based.

Offensive expected

An Indian soldier was shot and wounded there in March amid high tensions about an imminent government crackdown, and a UN helicopter was downed in December.

Hilde Johnson, the UNMISS chief, had said in March that the government was expected to soon launch an offensive against fighters loyal to local rebel leader David Yau Yau in Jonglei.

India is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces around the world and has suffered losses in the past.

In 2010, rebels hacked to death three Indians in their camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Akbaruddin said that the Indian foreign ministry was arranging for the bodies of its peacekeepers in South Sudan to be returned home.

Source: Agencies