Tag Archives: Dinka

Splintering of South Sudan conflict makes peace hard to find says UN

Reuters

Splintering of South Sudan war makes peace more elusive – United Nations

By David Lewis | JUBA

JUBA South Sudan’s civil war has mutated from a two-way fight between the president and his ousted former deputy to a fragmented conflict, making it harder to put it back together and peace more elusive, the top U.N. peacekeeper in the country said.

David Shearer, head of the 13,000-strong United Nations mission, welcomed signs that regional leaders were rejuvenating the peace process but said any initiative must include all factions, including that of former Vice President Riek Machar, and discourage the multiplication of armed groups.

South Sudan slipped into civil war in 2013, just two years after becoming independent from Khartoum, and some 4 million people – around one third of the population – have fled to neighbouring countries or to pockets of relative safety.

The conflict, ignited by a feud between President Salva Kiir and Machar, has resulted in ethnic cleansing between the leaders’ respective Dinka and Nuer communities.

However, an escalation of fighting since last July that forced Machar to flee the country a month later has seen clashes spread to previously unaffected areas.

“The situation now is somewhat different to what it was a year ago, when it was largely bipolar,” Shearer told Reuters in an interview late on Monday.

“We are seeing a lot more of the conflict being played out at a very local level and that is worrying because as it fractures it becomes more difficult to try to put the pieces back together again.”

Fighting has in particular affected the southern Equatoria regions, previously largely spared violence. The spike in fighting resulted in South Sudan having the fastest growing refugee population in the world as civilians poured into Uganda.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to camps within South Sudan that are ringed by U.N. troops.

Peacekeepers have frequently been criticised for failing to do enough to protect civilians but the U.N. leadership says troops are obstructed and restricted by the army.

A combination of red tape and unwillingness meant it took eight months for the first of 4,000 U.N. reinforcements approved to start deploying after last year’s fighting.

PLACES AT THE TABLE

Analysts and diplomats say regional peace efforts have stumbled for much of the last year as Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya adopted a more bilateral approach to the conflict.

But Shearer was optimistic that a recent meeting of regional leaders in Ethiopia would result in a more collective approach to the crisis.

“There was a sense that they want to rejuvenate the peace agreement and start moving that forward. That collective effort hasn’t been apparent for the last year,” he said.

Machar remains in exile in South Africa, excluded from the process.

Shearer said while regional leaders were reluctant to return to the “old formula” of insisting on a potentially explosive face-to-face between Kiir and Machar, there was recognition that Machar’s camp needed to be represented in talks and he could too, further down the line.

The U.N. chief said there was a delicate balance between a rejuvenated and broadened push for peace and creating incentives to add to the plethora of armed groups.

“What we don’t want to do is to encourage a greater degree of conflict or arming of groups in order to be relevant and have a place at the table,” he warned.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

South Sudan – rebel general Cirillo to enter war

Reuters

Exiled South Sudanese rebel general Thomas Cirillo poses for a photograph inside his hotel room in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

ADDIS ABABA A renegade general said he was weighing launching his new rebel force into South Sudan’s civil war, and called for President Salva Kiir to go, accusing him of spearheading ethnic violence that rights groups fear is slipping towards genocide.

Thomas Cirillo Swaka, known as Cirillo, resigned as deputy chief of staff of South Sudan’s military in February, citing rights abuses in a war that has split the world’s youngest nation, often along ethnic lines, since 2013.

Since then, the army’s most high-profile defector said he has put together a force of several thousand fighters, but declined to identify their exact plans or locations.

The scarred guerrilla veteran told Reuters that before he quit he had seen evidence of a government programme to recruit fighters and procure arms for militias from Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group that included secret orders for weapons bypassing military supply lines.

The assertions from Cirillo, a member of the smaller Bari ethnic group, were dismissed by the presidency. “It is very unfortunate that Cirillo is getting out of his mind. This is completely rubbish,” said presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny.

Reuters was unable to verify Cirillo’s accusations independently. But if true, they reinforce rights groups’ assertions that the government is using ethnic militias, accusations that the government has strongly denied.

A senior U.N. rights official said in December parts of the conflict involved ethnic cleansing. Last month, Britain said some of the violence in the oil-producing state amounted to genocide.

“Salva Kiir must go and there should be a change,” Cirillo told Reuters from a hotel in Addis Ababa, capital of South Sudan’s neighbour Ethiopia, where he said he was living in exile while trying to unite the disparate rebel forces.

“If Salva Kiir … tries to close all doors to peaceful solution … (the National Salvation Front) will have no other option to defend the people of South Sudan and to protect itself,” he added, referring to his rebel force.

He said his fighters were “friendly” with the country’s biggest rebel force, known as the SPLA-In Opposition – which confirmed it sees Cirillo as an ally.

 

REFUGEES, FAMINE, OIL

The war started in December 2013 after Kiir sacked his deputy and long-term rival Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group. Forces loyal to Kiir clashed with Nuer in the capital, triggering retaliatory attacks across the impoverished nation.

The surge of violence just over two years after South Sudan seceded from Sudan has fuelled Africa’s biggest cross-border refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It has also plunged districts into famine, nearly halved oil production and threatened to destabilise a volatile region.

Cirillo said he had largely been sidelined with little power during the period when the worst abuses by government troops took place. Reuters could not verify that assertion, though Cirillo has not been named in any U.N. reports on rights abuses.

He said he quit partly because the president and army chief set up a system to recruit militia fighters, bypassing official military channels – a statement dismissed by the presidency.

“The president does not seek parallel recruitment,” said Ateny.

Cirillo said the programme was organised out of Kiir’s ranch outside the capital, Juba, in Luri – an area described as a “marshalling point and training area for Dinka militia” in a 2016 U.N. Panel of Experts report on South Sudan.

Cirillo said Kiir and army chief Paul Malong, another Dinka, held meetings at their homes, rather than at the ministry or military headquarters, excluding military officers of other ethnic backgrounds.

The two also circumvented normal military channels when they recruited thousands of youths from their home region of Bahr el Ghazal, Cirillo said.

“They train them there and bring them to Juba,” he said.

A military spokesman referred Reuters queries to the presidential spokesman.

 

“YOU HAVE TO HIDE GUNS”

Cirillo, who has an eight-inch scar on his head from a landmine blast, fought during South Sudan’s long wars with the Khartoum government and was head of army training and research from 2010 until February 2016, when he became head of logistics.

Cirillo said that less than a week after signing an internationally backed peace deal with Machar in August 2015, Kiir called 60 top generals, including Cirillo, to his palace and ordered them not to withdraw from the capital as the deal stipulated.

“The president came and told us that he is not going to implement the agreement and told us in an open way that you have to hide guns,” Cirillo said.

Ateny described that as “another fabricated lie.”

Machar returned to Juba in April last year, but was forced to flee in August after fighting between his forces and Kiir’s broke out in the capital. South African authorities are holding Machar under de facto house arrest after he sought medical treatment there in October.

Alan Boswell, author of an upcoming report on South Sudan for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, which monitors small arms and armed violence, said Cirillo had support in his native Equatoria region that surrounds Juba and borders Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“If Cirillo manages to secure an arms supply, the effect would be immediate and drastic, as the rebellion is currently extremely under-resourced,” said Boswell.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

South Sudan – army general resigns citing abuses and ethnic bias

Reuters

By Katharine Houreld | NAIROBI

A South Sudanese general has resigned, citing abuses by the security forces against civilians and what he called increasing ethnic favouritism in the military, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Saturday.

Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the deputy head of logistics, is the highest-ranking officer to resign since former Vice President Riek Machar fled after his supporters clashed in Juba in July with soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir.

Swaka, widely known as Cirillo, is respected by the international community and Western governments would see his resignation and the charges he has levelled as an indictment of the government, one security expert in Nairobi said.

South Sudan has been riven by conflict since 2013, two years after seceeding from North Sudan. Fighting broke out a few months after Kiir, from the Dinka tribe, sacked Machar, a Nuer. His reinstatement in 2016 lasted just weeks before violence erupted again.

The conflict has increasingly followed ethnic lines, forcing three million people to flee their homes, bringing the nation of 11 million close to famine and leading the United Nations to say South Sudan was on the brink of genocide.

Swaka’s letter reinforced those warnings.

“President Kiir and his Dinka leadership clique have tactically and systematically transformed the SPLA into a partisan and tribal army,” it read, using the acronym for the government Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

“Terrorising their opponents, real or perceived, has become a preoccupation of the government.”

Swaka said the military, police and other security branches systematically recruited Dinka from the president and chief of army staff’s home region. Non-Dinkas and Dinkas who disagreed with the president’s agenda were given remote postings or sidelined, he said.

He also said “soldiers from the Dinka ethnic group have been strategically deployed and posted in non-Dinka areas to support the policy of land occupation.”

Swaka said the military raped and killed civilians and allowed tribal militias to commit the same abuses as well as running a network of secret prisons where torture was endemic.

The government routinely dismisses charges of ethnic bias and blames rebels for stoking trouble. Officials say any soldier committing abuses will be held to account and the president said on Monday any soldier committing rape should be shot.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang did not return calls seeking comment about Swaka’s letter. The presidential spokesman also could not immediately be reached.

U.N. officials and Western governments have accused both sides in the conflict of abuses.

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Louise Ireland)

South Sudan – government rejects additional 4,000 UN troops

Al Jazeera

More than 12,000 UN peacekeeping mission troops have been in South Sudan since it gained independence in 2011 [File: EPA]

South Sudan has announced it will no longer accept the deployment of an additional 4,000 United Nations peacekeepers, saying the security situation in the county has improved.

The regional protection force, authorised by the UN Security Council in August after renewed fighting in the capital, Juba, is meant to strengthen the 13,500-strong UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan

UN dismisses South Sudan peacekeeping force chief

“The government of South Sudan has the ability to provide security and stability for the country and for its citizens without the deployment of a … protection force,” South Sudan’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Mawien Makol Ariik said on Wednesday.

The government’s move is a reversal of its earlier decision in November to accept the troops’ deployment.

Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk also said there was no need for the regional protection forces to be deployed in South Sudan.

“Most of the people abroad still believe that there is fighting in Juba and around the country … but Juba is now secure,” Juuk told DPA news agency.


READ MORE: South Sudan accepts 4,000 more UN peacekeepers


Juuk’s remarks contradict reports of recent fighting in the north and south of the country.

The South Sudanese government had warned in August 2016 that the deployment of more UN forces would marginalise its sovereignty, but later gave its consent amid the threat of an arms embargo.

In December, a UN human rights commission urged a rapid deployment of the additional peacekeepers amid reports of ethnic killings.

A political split between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former deputy Riek Machar escalated into a military conflict in December 2013. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than two million displaced.

A unity government was formed in April, but fighting broke out again in July, sending Machar into exile.

The UN’s top human rights official has previously blamed South Sudanese government troops and rebels loyal to the president of ethnically targeted violations, including extrajudicial executions and sexual violence incidences in August 2015.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has previously faced criticism for failing to fully protect civilians facing violence.

In early November, Ban Ki-moon, the former UN secretary-general, dismissedthe commander of the UNMISS force following a damning report that accused the peacekeepers of failing to protect civilians during the outbreak of violence in July.

The report from a UN special investigation found that a lack of leadership in the UNMISS ended in a “chaotic and ineffective response” during the heavy fighting in the capital, Juba, from July 8 to 11 that killed dozens of people.

UN says South Sudan conflict has given rise to horrific sexual violence

Reuters

By Katharine Houreld | NAIROBI

South Sudanese soldiers brutally raped an elderly woman and a pregnant woman lost her baby after being gang-raped by seven soldiers, according to United Nations investigators.

The U.N. human rights investigators presented the testimonies on Friday, saying increasingly brutal attacks on women are an integral part of spreading ethnic cleansing. They said the violence could spill into genocide.

“The scale of gang rape of civilian women as well as the horrendous nature of the rapes by armed men belonging to all groups is utterly repugnant,” said the chairwoman of the U.N. independent commission on human rights, Yasmin Sooka.

“Women are bearing the brunt of this war along with their children … rape is one of the tools being used for ethnic cleansing.”

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 and had a brief period of celebration before ethnic tensions erupted amid allegations of widespread corruption.

In December 2013, fighting broke out months after President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, sacked vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.

The sporadic fighting has increasingly taken on ethnic dimensions. Many of the smaller tribes accuse the Dinka of targeting them. Rebels have also targeted Dinka.

Women across the country were being subjected to sexual slavery, tied to trees and gang-raped or passed from house to house by soldiers, said Sooka, who said rebels were also committing atrocities.

Three in five women in U.N.-administered “protection of civilian” sites around the capital Juba experienced rape or sexual assault, according to a 2016 report by the U.N. Population Fund. The sites are meant to offer safe shelter for civilians.

Government officials and commanders on all sides had a legal duty to prevent their soldiers from preying on civilians, said Sooka’s colleague Kenneth Scott, a former prosecutor.

“Commanders, officers will be held accountable for failing to exercise command and control,” he said, warning failure to prevent atrocities could result in prosecution.

The shaky 2015 peace agreement that was supposed to end the latest round of fighting provided for a hybrid court to be set up with responsibilities divided between the African Union and South Sudan, but progress on setting it up was “very slow”, Scott said.

South Sudanese officials were not available to comment on the investigators’ findings, but on Thursday, Kiir told Reuters that no ethnic cleansing was taking place in South Sudan. The military has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Scott said the government had had almost “no reaction” to the commission’s findings.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

The genocidal logic of South Sudan’s “gun class”

IRIN

Alan BoswellTwitter

A researcher on South Sudan’s conflict based in Nairobi, Boswell is exploring the country’s birth and collapse

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 with ethnic cleansing in the capital, Juba, committed by a government put in power by external brokering aimed at paving the way for the world’s newest nation.

This South Sudan political experiment lasted two and a half years. Its bloody collapse continues, a slow-motion calamity on a par with any crisis in the world.

Last week, the UN special adviser on preventing genocide, Adama Dieng, declared South Sudan at risk of genocide. The sudden focus is warranted but tardy. Some estimate that South Sudan’s death toll rivals Syria’s. But the atrocities described now in South Sudan’s Equatoria region — charred bodies in torched villages, gang rape, depopulation as a tool of war, and political violence waged against perceived ethnopolitical blocs — has characterised the war since its inception.

In the beginning, many observers performed mental gymnastics to downplay the ugly ethnic nature of South Sudan’s war. The new concerns over genocide risk reversing that mistake, casting the violence as chiefly ethnic, not political. Both miss the mark. In a South Sudan where political might flows up from mobilised ethnic enclaves, politics is ethnopolitics, and the ethnic tension is politically driven by the “King of the Hill” logic of a crude state formation.

This year I witnessed a Shilluk ethnic defense militia march new graduates to war with songs against the Dinka, after the government annexed traditional land to a neighboring Dinka state. I landed in Wau, a historically diverse provincial town, to emptied streets patrolled by Dinka soldiers after a Dinka militia avenged a Fertit rebel attack by torching a Ferit neighbourhood. At an abandoned medical research facility deep in the forest of Western Equatoria, a Zande rebel leader derided the Zande governor, simply, as “Dinka” — the height, for the rebel, of all insults.

Origins

South Sudan’s ethnopolitical war is rooted in the flaws of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which installed a non-representative and ethnically fractured party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, in charge of a future country it never won over. Many South Sudanese militias, some more representative of political constituencies than others, successfully resisted the SPLM throughout the war. But peace brokers crowned SPLM the winner.

Nyakong, 22, has been hiding in a village near Nasir, South Sudan, and surviving off cow's milk for months. The village is unsafe, but the floodwaters are too high to bring her three young children to Leitchuor refugee camp in Ethiopia.
C. Tijerina/UNHCR
The victims of a state unraveling

The SPLM’s lack of monopolised or legitimised rule rendered South Sudan a failed state before birth. This is the origin of South Sudan’s derided “gun class”: without a state, politics is war. Rather than address this structural timebomb head-on, the 2005 CPA peace accord perversely incentivised SPLM leaders to latch hold of external sovereignty instead of legitimising its rule. Patchwork patronage coupled with crude collective punishment held the state together, but reinforced South Sudan’s ethnopolitical lines.

This fractured state did not withstand its first power dispute. Riek Machar, South Sudan’s vice president, a Nuer, challenged President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, for SPLM leadership, and Kiir sacked him.

Riek’s “antics”, Justice Ambrose Riny Thiik, who leads an influential Dinka nationalist lobby, told me, “sent waves through the Jieng (Dinka) community”. Anyone who wants to lead South Sudan “must be someone that can win [the] support of our community”, South Sudan’s largest, he maintained. “So we joined together, all the Jieng communities of Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Upper Nile.”

A Dinka paramilitary force secretly arrived in Juba, and its sudden ethnic cleansing campaign forced the ethnic Nuer out of South Sudan’s political space and into armed rebellion and exile. South Sudanese got the message: In South Sudan, ethnicity trumps citizenship. If so, one could barely construct an entity more ripe for mass atrocities than South Sudan’s weak ethnocratic rule over militarily fractured zones of ethnopolitical control.

The Nuer mobilised in vengeance, raiding towns and slaughtering Dinka in retaliation. Kiir relied increasingly on Dinka nationalism to wage the war and mobilise recruits. Political patronage dried up. Kiir’s political base narrowed further.

Celebrating independence in 2011
UN Photo/Paul Banks
Celebrating independence, at war two and a half years later

Where now?

The war widened with the August 2015 peace deal, which granted Machar an official opposition army. National recruitment into Machar’s force surged in new strongholds, a perverted but predictable effect of the accord’s provisions. Unaligned militias, like the Arrow Boys in Western Equatoria, loosely joined Machar’s now-official opposition, and mobilisation efforts in Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal picked up.

A similar descent into war repeated itself across the country: rebel mobilisation sparks government hostility. Dinka security officers detain young men; some disappear. Civilians flee the garrison towns to the countryside. Broad retaliation follows rebel raids; more Dinka reinforcements arrive, reinforcing a sense of ethnocratic occupation. Isolated garrison towns suddenly float in seas of hostility. The government, increasingly, resorts to draining the sea.

This sea is now lapping up to the shores of Juba, which is within Equatoria. South Sudan is not Sudan or Syria; no rump state exists. The war is increasingly existential. If the history of mass atrocities should tell us anything: beware the desperate, not just the strong. Thus far, in the brutal logic of South Sudan’s war, all sides become weaker and weaker, more and more vulnerable.

South Sudan’s ethnopolitical crisis requires an ethnopolitical solution. The solution to the winner-take-all struggle is not a new winner-take-all election between armed parties. Nor will South Sudanese give up their arms until the political crisis is resolved. This only appears a chicken-or-egg predicament if one assumes South Sudan must be built top-down in a repeat of failed statebuilding models. South Sudanese voted for liberation. Instead, they are stuck in the violent spiral of a state collapse into bloody ethnopolitics waged over a centre created by peace brokers and statebuilders. Many flee. Others won’t, or can’t. The world will watch.

When Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk first sought shelter with the UN in Malakal, violence raged between the ethnic groups inside the camp. The UN head called a meeting and John Chuol, a community police volunteer, stood to speak. “I told her to divide us up, so we’d stop fighting. She did. And it worked,” he told me. Tensions calmed, allowing Chuol to start a youth league bringing the groups back together as South Sudanese.

Chuol invited me to the youth meeting. Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk mingled. Days later, government forces torched the camp, including Chuol’s home, while evacuating the Dinka inside.

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Who can stop the threat of genocide in South Sudan?

IRIN

KAMPALA, 14 November 2016

The alarm has been raised over the threat of genocide in South Sudan, with civilians increasingly targeted and persecuted in a scorched earth counter-insurgency campaign waged by government forces and their allies in the southern region of Equatoria.

After a visit to the southwestern town of Yei, Adama Dieng, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on preventing genocide, warned on Friday that in the prevailing climate of violence and intolerance, there was “the potential for genocide”.

“Even on the day I visited,” he told a media briefing, “I saw families packing up the few belongings they have left and waiting on the side of the road for transport – either to Juba [the capital] or to neighbouring Uganda for refuge.”

Dieng said the gravity of the situation “merits immediate intervention – a full-scale fact-finding investigation and enhanced humanitarian support”.

Frontline Equatoria

Since former vice president Riek Machar fled Juba in July, the conflict in South Sudan has shifted from Greater Upper Nile to Equatoria, where the bulk of his SPLA-IO forces are sheltering.

Discontent has long simmered over the southern region’s perceived political marginalisation. Some groups have stuck with the government, but many others have teamed up with Machar’s SPLA-IO, resisting both the government’s undisciplined troops and their allies: armed Dinka cattle herders – tribesmen of President Salva Kiir – who are encroaching on their land.

South Sudanese refugee boys holding chickens on arrival in Uganda
Samuel Okiror/IRIN
South Sudanese refugee arriving in Uganda

The government response to dissent has historically been brutal. It is now fuelling not only an outpouring of refugees from the region, but also increasing local hostility towards the government and the Dinka – the largest ethnic group in the country who Kiir’s forces are seen as representing.

“The government appears to be conducting a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in greater Equatoria, including reports of the systematic targeting of civilians, gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and widespread sexual violence,” said Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, at the National Defense University, Washington.

“In response, Equatorian self-defense forces and armed groups have retaliated by attacking vehicles and targeting Dinka civilians, particularly in central Equatoria,” she told IRIN.

Tit-for-tat

In the most notorious case to date, gunmen ambushed a convoy of vehicles on the Yei-Juba road in October, separated the Dinka and executed them. Some youth groups have vowed revenge, prompting an exodus of Equatorians from the Dinka heartland of Bahr el Ghazal.

“Following the retreat of Machar and his opposition forces from Juba in July, we have witnessed a spike in the number of armed clashes and abuses against civilians in the Equatoria region,” noted Jonathan Pedneault, Human Rights Watch researcher for South Sudan.

Responding to the guerrilla tactics ,“the government has prosecuted very abusive counter-insurgency tactics in those areas,” Pedneault added. “Government forces have arbitrarily arrested, detained and beaten or tortured civilians for prolonged periods of time, often along ethnic lines and upon suspicions that they participate in the rebellion.”

There are many, overlapping conflicts in the greater Equatoria region. There is longstanding distrust between some Equatorians and the government, grievances that are separate from the national political dispute playing out between Kiir and Machar.

My enemy’s enemy

Some Equatorians feel sandwiched by the ethno-politicised conflict represented by Kiir and Machar, who draws much of his support from the Nuer, the country’s second largest ethnic group. They do not feel that a diverse Equatoria gets a fair shake from either side as both men battle for control of Juba, despite the fact the city falls within their territory.

But Machar’s rebel SPLA-IO remains a distinct presence, with its aligned Equatorian militias. Backing Machar in the short-term against perceived “Dinka domination” may seem a pragmatic strategy for a region that has historically been militarily weak.

SPLA soldiers
SPLA soldiers (file photo)

There is also local politics at play. Land grabbing, the appointment of an unpopular governor in Yei River State, and the depredations of a pro-government militia, the Mathiang Anyoor, have also helped accelerate the souring of relations.

As a consequence, greater Equatoria risks fracturing further. At the end of October, a new group calling itself the South Sudan Democratic Front announced a new rebellion against the Kiir government.

“We should expect more Equatorians to join the armed opposition groups that exist, and perhaps even additional ones to be declared,” Knopf said.

“The attacks and counter-attacks in greater Equatoria have sparked ethnic incitement from members of the Equatorian and Dinka communities, especially amongst the youth,” she added. “Nearly every indicator of risk of genocide is now evident in South Sudan.”

Humanitarian toll

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has warned that the conflict has spawned one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. Since the fighting in Juba in July between Kiir’s and Machar’s forces, some 320,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.

It noted that in October an average of 3,500 people crossed into Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Sudan each day.

“Genocide is a process. It does not happen overnight”

Refugees from Equatoria are increasingly using informal border crossing points, reportedly due to the presence of armed groups along main roads. Many refugees report having had to walk through the bush for days, often without food or water.

“The refugees are fleeing due to armed groups harassing civilians, killings and torture of people suspected of supporting opposing factions, burning of villages, sexual assaults of women and girls and forced recruitment of young men and boys from the Equatoria region,” said Richard Ruati, a spokesman with UNHCR in South Sudan.

Rachel Jacob at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm, told IRIN that civilians had borne the brunt of the violence, “either directly by fighting, or in reprisals by government forces seeking to root out the opposition and collectively punish locals to discourage any support for rebels.

“For those remaining, the situation is exacerbated by deliberate obstruction of UN and aid agencies by armed actors, as well as the prevailing insecurity along major roads in Equatoria, which have escalated violence and restricted humanitarian access to civilians.”

Equatoria is the country’s traditional food basket, responsible for more than half of net cereal production. A fall in output as a result of the violence is affecting an already precarious nationwide food security situation in which 31 percent of South Sudanese, approximately 3.7 million people, are facing severe food shortages.

According to Dieng, “genocide is a process. It does not happen overnight. And because it is a process and one that takes time to prepare, it can be prevented.”

How that is to be achieved right now, is not clear. For many in Equatoria, the alternative is simply to flee their country.

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TOP PHOTO: South Sudan refugees arriving in northern Uganda. Credit: Sam Okiror