Aid groups raise fears of escalating violence

2015-05-21 16:29
A displaced child by fighting in South Sudan is vaccinated at a refugee registration centre at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia. (File: AFP)

A displaced child by fighting in South Sudan is vaccinated at a refugee registration centre at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia. (File: AFP)

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Nairobi - Rape and killing driven by revenge is spiralling to new highs in South Sudan after 18 months of fighting and the world looks the other way, according to aid groups working in world's youngest country.

Fighting has forced thousands to flee their homes in recent days and some 650,000 civilians are without access to aid, according to the United Nations (UN) Humanitarian Co-ordinator for South Sudan.

Children as young as seven have been raped and whole villages burned to the ground in the latest violence, the UN's children's fund said. Four civilians were killed when mortar bombs hit a UN compound near an oilfield on Tuesday.

But while images of the conflict in Syria are regularly in the news due to widespread use of social media, aid workers said it was barely possible to get a mobile phone signal in most of South Sudan so the ongoing violence received little attention.

Conflict

"You have a level of violence which is unheard of," Yves Daccord, director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"There is no respect ... It's about revenge, nothing else."

The world's newest state, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011, was plunged into conflict nearly 18 months ago between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy, Riek Machar.

The conflict in the north-eastern African nation reopened ethnic faultlines between Kiir's Dinka people and Machar's forces, who are largely ethnic Nuer.

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said over 11,000 newly displaced people have arrived at a United Nations (UN) base in Bentiu, Unity State, in the country's north, in last few weeks with "horrific accounts of violence".

Cycle of violence

"What concerns me the most is nobody is interested in South Sudan," Daccord said. "People are a bit tired."

South Sudan is ICRC's second biggest operation in the world after Syria, with a budget of $140m. It could be its largest by mid June, when it will appeal for additional funds.

Fighting has forced ICRC to evacuate some staff from Leer in Unity State and MSF staff in Leer have fled into the bush, taking nine patients with them, including three babies.

Attacks on health facilities appear to be driven by revenge and a lack of control over young fighters, Daccord said.

"Some of them - but it's rare - will tell you: "Yes, we understand that [it is illegal to attack health facilities], but it's difficult because the others did the same, so it's difficult to stop my people'," he said.

"Everything is done to create a cycle of violence and that is what worries me so much."

Read more on:    un  |  msf  |  riek machar  |  salva kiir  |  south sudan  |  east africa

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