Mil­lions flee civil war in South Su­dan

Fears of po­ten­tial geno­cide mount

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - REUTERS JUBA

WHEN South Su­dan’s civil war erupted in 2013, Nyay­ath Uluak was caught in cross­fire in the north­ern town of Malakal and a bul­let tore her leg apart. She sur­vived, but the lower half of her limb didn’t.

On leav­ing hospi­tal, she found refuge with rel­a­tives in Yei, to the south, but then had to flee again as the war spread last year. Now, home is a camp out­side the cap­i­tal ringed by barbed wire and sand­bagged po­si­tions manned by UN peace­keep­ers.

The el­derly woman has lit­tle hope that South Su­dan’s war­ring lead­ers, Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir, an eth­nic Dinka, and his for­mer deputy, Riek Machar, a Nuer, will heal the per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal an­i­mos­ity that split South Su­dan two years af­ter it be­came the world’s youngest na­tion.

“I don’t think the lead­ers will re­solve this any time soon,” she said, sit­ting on the dirt floor of a shel­ter that was once used to teach chil­dren gram­mar and maths, but is now oc­cu­pied by new ar­rivals. “I don’t even know what they are fight­ing over.”

The camp out­side Juba hosts 30 000 peo­ple, 50% more than it was de­signed for.

The fugi­tives are part of the big­gest move­ment of peo­ple in Africa since the 1994 Rwan­dan geno­cide – some 2 mil­lion within South Su­dan and nearly the same again out­side its bor­ders.

UN ex­perts say the con­flict, which also has roots in con­trol of South Su­dan’s oil wealth, amounts to eth­nic cleans­ing and risks es­ca­lat­ing to geno­cide.

“Peo­ple told me sto­ries of fear and vi­o­lence,” UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said af­ter walk­ing though the tent city, where the stench of la­trines hangs in the air and chil­dren play foot­ball on pitches of baked red earth.

The des­ti­tute camp-dwellers took ad­van­tage of Grandi’s pres­ence to list their daily hard­ships. Kun Chuol, an ed­u­ca­tion co-or­di­na­tor, com­plained of con­ges­tion and a lack of ra­tions. An­gelina Nya­gak, a women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, said those who left the camp to try to top up ra­tions face the risk of at­tack and rape by armed men.

In the last ma­jor bout of fight­ing, in July, 60 peo­ple in the camp were killed. To­day, white ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers are parked around the perime­ter. Grandi pledged to speak on their be­half in meet­ings with South Su­dan’s lead­ers.

“I can only speak to their sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, hop­ing there is one,” he said. “The flight of peo­ple is a clear tes­ti­mony that you are not tak­ing enough re­spon­si­bil­ity for your own cit­i­zens. Peo­ple wouldn’t go away if they weren’t afraid.”

Af­ter sev­eral failed peace ef­forts, South Su­dan has launched its own na­tional di­a­logue, while re­gional lead­ers have sought to re­vive in­ter­na­tion­ally bro­kered talks.

But few in the camp hold out much hope while Machar, who is in South Africa, re­mains out­side the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“It is about power. The prob­lem came when Riek said he would stand in the elec­tion against Salva,” said John Wiyual, a Nuer whose home is just 5km away but says he fears set­ting foot out­side the camp.

“They just need to bring those two peo­ple back to­gether. There will be no peace in South Su­dan if Riek is ex­cluded.”

Grandi said the fail­ure of pre­vi­ous agree­ments, from those that ended decades of war with Khar­toum and granted South Su­dan in­de­pen­dence to the more re­cent peace ef­forts, meant re­build­ing trust would be tough.

“There will have to be a good agree­ment to con­vince peo­ple to go back,” Grandi said. “It has to be sus­tain­able. There is noth­ing worse than peo­ple who go back and have to flee again.”

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Nyay­ath Uluak, a dis­placed South Su­danese woman, sits in a shel­ter for civil­ians in Juba.

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