Eth­nic killings ram­pant in once-placid S Su­dan town

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Isaac waited as sol­diers came to take away his cell­mates, one by one, fear­ing the worst as the uni­formed men re­turned alone and spat­tered in blood. A day ear­lier the 24-year-old phar­macy as­sis­tant was de­tained by sol­diers from South Su­dan’s ma­jor­ity Dinka tribe, while tak­ing medicine to his sick father out­side the south­west­ern town of Yei.

Search­ing his bag, the sol­diers dis­cov­ered the medicine and knew by his lan­guage that he was a mem­ber of the Kakwa eth­nic group. They ac­cused him of try­ing to sup­ply medicine to anti-gov­ern­ment rebels-many of them Kakwa-hid­ing in the bush and took him to the small room on a mil­i­tary base that was to be his prison. Four oth­ers shared the cell overnight. A man named James was the first to be called out.

“They said he was go­ing to fetch wa­ter. But we waited all evening, that guy was not back un­til now,” said Isaac, who spoke to AFP in a refugee camp in north­ern Uganda and did not want to give his last name. Later, when the sol­dier re­turned, “his chest was blood­ied even the legs was full of blood.” A sec­ond man was called out. Fear­ing for their lives Isaac and his re­main­ing cell­mate be­gan to pray and cry out. The Su­dan Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (SPLA) is dom­i­nated by Dinkas but in­cludes other tribes from the Equa­to­ria re­gion where Yei is sit­u­ated. Five sol­diers re­sponded to their shouts.

Sol­diers caned by com­rades

Hear­ing that two Kakwa pris­on­ers had dis­ap­peared, the Equa­to­rian sol­diers went to their Dinka com­man­der. “He said that’s not their con­cern,” said Isaac. From the win­dow of his cell Isaac could see what hap­pened next. At the or­der of the com­man­der, the five Equa­to­rian sol­diers were made to stand in the sun and each was caned 50 times. Hours later those sol­diers turned their guns on their of­fi­cers and de­manded the pris­on­ers be re­leased.

The cell door was opened and Isaac fled. Days later he was on the road with his fam­ily walk­ing to Uganda. Eth­nic vi­o­lence has char­ac­terised South Su­dan’s politi­cal cri­sis since con­flict erupted in 2013, and refugees flee­ing Yei have de­scribed a dis­turb­ing pat­tern of tar­geted killings in the town that was once a haven of peace in the war-torn coun­try. The con­flict ini­tially pit­ted Dinka and Nuer sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir and his for­mer vice-pres­i­dent Riek Machar against each other.

How­ever ob­servers say it has metas­ta­sised with other tribes join­ing one side or the other, of­ten with the hope of get­ting an up­per hand in lo­cal con­flicts over land and other is­sues. In Yei, vi­o­lence has surged since the col­lapse of an Au­gust 2015 peace deal be­tween Kiir and Machar led to an out­break of vi­o­lence in the cap­i­tal Juba, send­ing thou­sands flee­ing to Uganda.

Dead piled into lor­ries

Refugees told AFP how SPLA forces went door to door, killing civil­ians from tribes they ac­cuse of sup­port­ing the rebels. “At night they don’t shoot guns be­cause peo­ple will re­alise there’s a prob­lem... they will call you to come out and use knives,” said Isaac, who said many of his for­mer school mates fight with the rebels. He said he once saw the dead piled into a con­voy of three lor­ries and taken away.

“You see blood on the ve­hi­cle, blood flow­ing, that’s when you re­alise there are dead bod­ies go­ing. They take them to the bar­racks and they have that ve­hi­cle for mak­ing holes then they dump them there.” How­ever both sides have been ac­cused of atroc­i­ties. “Now only Equa­to­ri­ans are be­ing killed but when the rebels en­ter the town that’s when you find that the Dinka are be­ing shot,” said Isaac. His story echoes those told by over 20 refugees in­ter­viewed by AFP.

Gov­ern­ment ‘tar­get­ing civil­ians’

Irene, from the Lu­lobo eth­nic group, fled Mambe in Yei River State when Dinka men raided her house and called for her hus­band by name. Irene said she knew they were Dinka from the dis­tinc­tive tra­di­tional fa­cial scars. “The per­son who shot him just knocked at the door and called by name. When he heard that he pushed me un­der the bed with the chil­dren,” said the 28-year-old. The sol­diers burst in, shone a torch around and shot her hus­band.

Irene fled with her chil­dren but while walk­ing through the bush to Uganda she and the group she was with en­coun­tered an­other group of armed Dinka men. “Two women were trapped and raped by the men.

— AFP

JUDA: This file photo taken on Novem­ber 28, 2016 shows Frances Saida (2L) and Shu­vai Ny­oni (3L), mem­bers of the UN Hu­man Rights Of­fice, meet with dis­placed civil­ians at a com­mu­nity cen­tre of the UN Pro­tec­tion of Civil­ians (PoC) site.

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