Tag Archives: South Sudan Nuer v Dinka

Man-made famine threatens millions in South Sudan


South Sudan crisis: famine and genocide threaten to engulf nation

Aid agencies say South Sudan at ‘tipping point’ as ethnic violence puts millions of people at risk of starvation and disease

A South Sudanese boy suffering from malnutrition is weighed at an emergency aid clinic

A South Sudanese boy suffering from severe malnutrition is weighed at a clinic run by Medecins Sans Frontieres Photograph: Charles Lomodong/AFP/Getty Images

It is happening again. Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, 30 years after the famine in Ethiopia, Africa‘s twin scourges are back. This time it is a single country facing a double disaster. South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, not yet three years old, is on the brink of catastrophe.

Here in Melut, on the banks of the Nile, close to the oilfields and the border with Sudan, the signs of impending disaster are impossible to miss. This week the world’s richest nations will have one last chance to make good their promises of help.

Nearly 20,000 people have fled to the refugee camps in Melut since fighting between rival government factions broke out last December. In total, more than a million people have fled from their homes and, with the rainy season starting, more than a third of the population – 3.7 million people – are already facing emergency and crisis levels of hunger.

“There is no food here,” a man tells me as we sit in the dust beneath an acacia tree in one of Melut’s makeshift camps. “No food. We eat leaves from the trees and the women go out to collect firewood. But when the rain comes, it will be still worse. We will starve – and then we will die.”

Relief agencies are fighting a desperate battle to alert the outside world to the scale of the impending disaster. Last week Oxfam warned that the crisis has reached a “now or never moment” to avoid catastrophic levels of hunger and suffering. Chief executive Mark Goldring said: “The crisis is at a tipping point. We either act now or millions will pay the price. We need a massive and rapid global surge in aid … We cannot afford to wait, and we cannot afford to fail.”

In Melut the rains have just started. Two of the town’s camps are on the banks of the Nile and few of the flimsy straw huts have plastic sheeting for their roofs. Soon the dust will turn to mud. Disease will spread. The old and the young, already weak from hunger, will start to die. “Please tell the world,” says one of the camp’s leaders. “We need food, shelter and mosquito nets. We cannot survive like this.”

Last week, in an ominous development, the South Sudanese government officially declared a cholera outbreak in the capital, Juba. In a statement last Thursday, it said that 18 suspected cases and one death have already been reported in the city. The fear is that soon the outbreak will spread among the 1.3 million people who have been displaced by the past five months of violence.

The world cannot say it didn’t know about this crisis. Last month the US’s top aid official, Rajiv Shah, warned: “South Sudan is on the brink of famine.” The EU said the world was witnessing a humanitarian disaster of appalling proportions, and the UN’s humanitarian aid coordinator, Toby Lanzer, said that without immediate action the South Sudan crisis will be more serious than anything seen in Africa since the Ethiopian famine of 30 years ago.

On Tuesday the world’s major donors will meet in Oslo to decide on a response to the crisis. The UN says current pledges amount to less than half of what is needed: it wants another $1.26bn (£750m) to pay for urgent assistance until the end of this year. Without it, four million people will be left at risk of avoidable diseases, hunger or death. Up to 50,000 children could die from malnutrition. Cholera could spread and tens of thousands of people could die from other diseases such as measles, pneumonia and malaria. If no seeds are planted during the rainy season, famine will follow within months.

I met Tyler Evans, a doctor from New York who is working with the relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières, in his makeshift clinic beneath a piece of plastic sheeting held up on wooden poles. We were in the UN compound in Melut, where nearly 1,000 people have sought refuge behind razor wire after being chased from their homes by armed gangs.

The biggest health issue Evans faces on his visits twice a week to the over-crowded and squalid camp is lack of hygiene.

“What’s the use of me telling a woman she must wash her hands before she feeds her children if she has no soap and no access to clean water?” he asks. “We’re already seeing malnourishment among children – up to 10% not far from here – and when the rains come, so will malaria.”

The people in this camp are terrified and traumatised. They shelter beneath the protective guns of UN guards, knowing full well that last month in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state to the south of here, 200 armed men in civilian clothing stormed a UN base where more than 5,000 civilians had taken refuge. More than 50 people were reported to have been killed.

They, like the people in the UN compound in Melut, were Nuer, members of South Sudan’s second-largest ethnic group to which the former vice-president, now turned rebel leader, Riek Machar, belongs. What began as a personal and political struggle between him and President Salva Kiir, who is a Dinka, the country’s biggest ethnic group, has now turned into communal bloodletting of Rwanda-like brutality.

International diplomats do not use the word genocide lightly – but two weeks ago the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said that if South Sudan’s violence continued along ethnic lines it “could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide”.

What that implies is that this is not the kind of conflict that can be stopped in its tracks by a ceasefire agreement – and early signs are that the agreement in Addis Ababa last weekend is shaky at best.

Unlike in Rwanda, the ethnic massacring is mutual in South Sudan. In one of the worst single incidents, at least 400 Dinka were slaughtered last month by Nuer attackers in Bentiu. Some were killed as they sought shelter in mosques and churches – and, in another terrible echo of Rwanda, local FM radio stations were used to incite local people to join the carnage. Nuer kill Dinka; Dinka kill Nuer.

“People came from a neighbouring village and told us you cannot live around here any more,” says a Nuer man in the Melut UN compound. “They said that if we stayed we would be killed. A lot of people in my village were killed. God knows what will be the future for my children. Here, we are starving.”

None of the men in the camp dares venture beyond the barbed wire fence. So it is the women who go out foraging for firewood. They know the risks. “Every day we walk for five hours looking for wood,” says one woman. “It is very dangerous for us. Yesterday one woman did not return. Another one returned and cried for the whole day. Terrible things happen.”

She refuses to say more. My translator explains that many women are raped when they leave the compound.

A UN human rights report published 10 days ago makes grim reading: “All parties to the conflict have committed acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women of different ethnic groups … There are reasonable grounds to believe that violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by both parties.”

After the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s, leaders of the world’s richest nations said it must never happen again. They said the same after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But in South Sudan, it is happening. Again. Guardian

South Sudan – hundreds killed by rebels in Bentiu


South Sudan conflict: Bentiu ‘ethnic slaughter’ condemned

Government soldiers in Bentiu (Jan 2014) The army was forced out of Bentiu last week

Hundreds of people were killed because of their ethnicity after South Sudan rebels seized the oil hub of Bentiu last week, the UN has said.

They were targeted at a mosque, a church and a hospital, the UN Mission in South Sudan said in a statement.

It added that hate speech was broadcast on local radio stations, saying certain groups should leave the town and urging men to rape women.

The Nuer community are seen as supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar.

President Salva Kiir is a member of the country’s largest group, the Dinka.

Although both men have prominent supporters from various communities, there have been numerous reports of rebels killing ethnic Dinkas and the army targeting Nuers since the conflict broke out in December 2013.

Since then, more than a million people have fled their homes in what was already among the world’s poorest nations.

‘Piles of bodies’


In a civil war marked by numerous human rights abuses, the reports from Bentiu are among the most shocking.

The rebels are accused of killing Dinkas (President Kiir’s ethnic group), Sudanese (because of the alleged support of Darfuri rebel groups for President Kiir) and Nuers who were not overtly cheering their fellow Nuer rebels.

The victims hid in hospitals and places of worship, but did not find sanctuary there.

Many of the rebels say they took up arms because of the murder of their relatives in Juba at the beginning of this conflict.

Both sides have committed terrible abuses.

However the scale of the killings carried out by rebel troops, including the feared White Army militia, in Bentiu, Bor and Malakal, has turned many people against the rebel leader, Riek Machar.

With the rainy season approaching, and negotiations set to resume in Addis Ababa, there is likely to be more fighting – and very likely more atrocities – in the next few weeks.

South Sudan analyst James Copnall says that in a civil war marked by numerous human rights abuses, the reports from Bentiu are among the most shocking.

Non-Nuer South Sudanese and foreign nationals were singled out and killed, the UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) said.

Some 200 civilians were reportedly killed at the Kali-Ballee mosque where they had sought shelter.

At the hospital, Nuer men, women and children, who hid rather than cheer the rebel forces as they entered the town, were also killed, it said.

The UN’s top humanitarian official in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, was in Bentiu on Sunday and Monday.

He told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that the scenes in Bentiu were “perhaps [the] most shocking set of circumstances” he had ever faced.

He said he saw “piles of [the bodies of] people who had been slaughtered” last week, adding that they all appeared to be civilians.

Many of those killed were Sudanese traders, especially from Darfur, Mr Lanzer said.

Analyst James Copnall says they could have been targeted because rebel groups in Darfur are alleged to back President Kiir against the rebels.

One rebel source said many of those killed in the mosque were actually soldiers who had taken off their uniforms.

Grab from UN video footage of bodies found in Bantiu Video footage from the UN shows bodies lying in the streets of Bantiu

The situation in South Sudan is “in a downward spiral”, Mr Lanzer said, describing the stakes as “very, very high”.

There are now more than 22,000 people seeking refuge at the UN peacekeeping base over the border in Sudan, he said, including families from the majority community in the state.

“When I asked them why [they were seeking refuge] they said: ‘When the violence has such a cycle of revenge you can’t tell what will come next’,” Mr Lanzer said.

He added that the UN base was not built for such large numbers, and that there was currently only one litre of drinking water for each of the 22,000 civilians in the base, and one latrine for every 350 people.

Upsurge in fighting

Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, has changed hands several times during the conflict.

Control of the oilfields is crucial because South Sudan gets about 90% of its revenue from oil.

A ceasefire was signed in January but there has been a recent upsurge in fighting.

Last week, the UN said an attack on one of its bases in the central town of Bor in which at least 58 people were killed could constitute a war crime.

Fighting broke out last year after Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar of plotting to stage a coup.

Mr Machar, who was sacked as vice-president last year, denied the charges but launched a rebellion.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, which became the world newest state after seceding from Sudan in 2011.

Map of South Sudan states affected by conflict Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians’ political bases are often ethnic.

South Sudan – political in-fighting and dissolution of cabinet threaten violence


Collapse of Salva Kiir’s government raises spectre of escalating violence during crucial oil and security talks with Sudan

Wednesday 24 July 2013 10.36 BST

Salva Kiir

South Sudan president Salva Kiir’s popularity has suffered due to his perceived failure to tackle poverty and widespread corruption. Photograph: Hannah Mcneish/AFP

South Sudan‘s president, Salva Kiir, has sacked his entire cabinet, including his chief political rival, vice-president Riek Machar, in what analysts say is the climax of a ruthless power struggle inside the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that could turn into “a full-blown catastrophe”.


In dramatic developments in the South Sudan capital, Juba, Kiir also fired Pagan Amum, the SPLM’s secretary-general and the country’s senior negotiator in crucial oil and security talks with Sudan. Like Machar, Amum has publicly criticised Kiir’s leadership.


The collapse of the government raised the prospect of escalating violence in the world’s youngest country, which gained independence from Sudan two years ago this month. Kiir’s popularity has suffered due to his government’s perceived failure to end high poverty rates, lack of infrastructure, internal repression, and widespread official corruption.


With Kiir giving no indication when a new government may be formed, sources in Juba suggested a prolonged standoff between the president and his opponents could split the SPLM into two or more rival camps, raise tensions between the powerful Dinka and Nuer tribal groups, and wreck plans for elections in 2015.


The UN and aid agencies warned last week that up to 120,000 people have been displaced by fighting between the army, rebels and rival tribes in eastern Jonglei state. South Sudan is also embroiled in several border disputes with Sudan and other neighbours.


A Juba-based analyst who asked not to be identified said: “The international community must urgently ensure this crisis does not spiral into a full-blown catastrophe. They must appeal for calm and demand President Kiir respect the constitution and uphold democracy.


“This is a crisis that has been looming for months, if not years. The international community – and particularly South Sudan’s strongest backers in the US and Europe – have done a great disservice to the people of the new country by ignoring the signs, allowing the corruption, poor governance, and political repression at the root of yesterday’s events go unchecked for so long …


“[The crisis] threatens not just the country and its people, but also the fragile relationship between South Sudan and Sudan.”


Edmund Yakani of the independent Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (Cepo) in Juba said Kiir’s actions reflected deeper problems. “This is the indicator of a power struggle within the ruling party. Dismissal of the vice-president, party secretary-general [and] the national ministers and their deputies is indicator of political instability in the system.”


Some of the sacked ministers would be reappointed to their posts, Yakani predicted, but there would be no rapprochement between Kiir and the vice-president, Machar. The implications of an ongoing confrontation between the country’s two most senior political figures were huge, he said.


“Among the key implications which are negative is the possibility that this means no elections and no registration of political parties, since the SPLM will want to register first before the other political parties … This means the division of the SPLM into two is possible …


“The president becoming authoritarian cannot be ruled out, while the vice-president is going to continue pressing for a SPLM ‘conversation’ [and] for national elections. The president may not easily accept either if he is not so sure of himself winning,” Yakani said.


A Juba-based commentator who asked not to be identified said Kiir appeared to be purging opponents who threaten his hold on power.


“This approach is just to cover up the major move, that is to say, the removal of Dr Riek Machar from the vice-presidency. The suspected intention is to provoke Dr Riek and Pagan Amum and a few other discontented ministers to quit the SPLM and perhaps form their own party.


“This would leave Mr Kiir with less opposition in the SPLM convention when the body convenes to select their flag bearer for 2015 elections,” the commentator said.


Machar and his allies were unlikely to fall into this trap, he added. “They seem to be aware of such a push, so they are more likely to stay to rock the boat from within SPLM. This is because they know it is only the national convention that can remove them from their party positions despite [their] removal from government … I do not see either Dr Riek or Pagan picking up arms, because  … they are both prepared for a democratic competition, quite convinced that the incumbent has lost popularity.”


Machar went public with his criticisms of Kiir in a Guardian interview in Juba last month, following Kiir’s decision in April to strip him of key vice-presidential powers.


Saying it was time for Kiir to step down after nearly a decade as SPLM leader, Machar indicated he was ready to challenge him for the top post either before or after the 2015 polls. The SPLM controls all but a handful of seats in parliament. Whoever leads the party is almost certain to be president.


Machar recently led a delegation to Khartoum to discuss bilateral tensions but came away empty-handed. Critics accused him of conniving with Sudan leaders to further weaken Kiir’s position, or alternatively, being bamboozled by them.


The government collapse comes at a critical moment during  talks with Sudan over oil exports, which account for almost all South Sudan government revenues. Khartoum has threatened to shut down Red Sea export pipelines on 7 August unless the SPLM ends its support for rebels in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. South Sudan denies aiding the rebels.


South Sudan’s oil minister warned this month that turning off the oil could cause irreparable damage to the pipelines and harm both countries’ economies. Stephen Dhieu Dau said if oil did not flow for several months, the pipeline would be a “total loss for the investors and the owners”.


The pipelines and other facilities in both countries were mainly built by China. China National Petroleum Corp, Malaysia’s Petronas and India’s ONGC Videsh run the oilfields in South Sudan together with the government.  guardian