Rioters rampage through South Sudan town

2012-12-19 19:45

Juba - Heavy gunfire was reported on Wednesday as crowds rampaged through the South Sudanese town of Wau, setting buildings on fire and forcing many to seek shelter with UN peacekeepers, witnesses said.

"There is so much firing and so many houses are on fire, I see so many buildings in flames," said Bible Manding, a civil society activist in Wau, the state capital of Western Bahr-el Ghazal.

The clashes follows the killing last week by security forces of at least nine protesters in violent demonstrations in Wau, and the discovery this week of six bodies of people from the Dinka tribe who had been executed in the bush outside the town.

"I am hiding... it now has shifted to a tribal thing," Manding said, adding that men from the Dinka ethnic group were battling other tribes.

UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) spokesperson Kouider Zerrouk said that more than 100 civilians, primarily women and children, have been allowed inside the Unmiss camp in Wau following "outbreaks of violence".

Peacekeepers had been sent out on patrol, he added.

"All the people in the area they are outside running," said Natalina Andrea Mabo, another civil society leader. Gunfire could be heard in the background as she spoke via telephone.

"Some of the people want to try and take the law into their own hands, they want to loot the market, they want to cause havoc and chaos among the people," said state information minister Derek Alfred.

Protests began last week after officials said they would move the seat of local authority out of Wau, capital of Western Bahr el-Ghazal state, to a nearby smaller settlement of Bagare.

However, civil society leaders also accuse a local government official of stoking ethnic tensions between rival groups.

South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, is awash with weapons after decades of war with Sudan, which it broke free from in July 2011.

Its security forces are made up of former rebel fighters, many of whom have struggled to integrate into a well-ordered and cohesive force, despite UN-backed efforts to provide training.

A peace deal was signed in 2005 to end decades of civil war - a key stepping stone towards South Sudan's eventual independence - but the fledgling nation remains volatile.