Continued Violence Threatens South Sudan

Revenge resulting in retaliatory killings continue to mount in South Sudan as violence that is tribal based threatens to spiral the country from chaos to calamity.

On April 14-15 hundreds of unarmed citizens were slaughtered in Bentiu. Many of the victims were taking refuge there from the region of Darfur in Sudan – an area that has suffered the wrath of Sudan President Omar al Bashi for several years and raises the specter of genocide in the thinking of many observers.

It is widely reported that the forces carrying out the attack in Bentiu were those loyal to former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar who has been in open conflict with President Salva Kiir since the outbreak of open division between the leaders and their forces on December 15. President Kiir is from the Dinka tribe while Macher is Nuer.

According to sources in South Sudan, the attack resulted in the deaths of around 1000 people and the abduction of hundreds of others. Many civilians reportedly took shelter in the Grand Mosque, the Catholic Church, and local hospitals but were pursued and put to death in these internationally respected sanctuaries.

Besides the toll on Darfuris in Bentiu, the militia also targeted people from the Dinka tribe and meted out various forms of violence including rape of the women, kidnapping, and death, according to UN reports.

A day after the attack, armed youths from the Dinka Bor tribe overran the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. The UN peacekeeping contingent was unable to keep the youths from entering the base for sheltering internally displaced persons and the invaders shot dozens of people.  While estimates of the number of dead vary from 20 to 50, there are many more severely wounded.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has held talks with both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar and urged them to declare a period of cease fire so that civilians can return home to plant crops at the outset of the rainy season. Pillay raised the widely held concern of the possibility of a famine if the conflict does not conclude and 1.2 million displaced persons are not encouraged to return to villages and farms.

“I was appalled by the apparent lack of concern about the risk of famine displayed by both leaders when I raised the issue,” reported Pillay. “The reaction to a call for 30 days of tranquility to allow people to go home to plant was lukewarm: both leaders said they would if the other did, then made it clear they did not trust the other’s words.”

Pillay is also urging donor nations to respond to the crisis in South Sudan by supplying funds for aid to the 4.9 million people already affected by the six month conflict that seems to have no quick resolution.