UN peacekeepers are amidst the anarchy of South Sudan, trying to help the thousands that have fled to the UN base over Christmas. South Sudan, who won independence two years ago, now sees violence rage after the civil war that won them their independence from Sudan. Political angst among the leaders and the rebels fighting is the source of the unrest. President Salva Kiir and former Vice-president Riek Machar are at odds, with the latter being responsible for the rebel attacks.
Thousands are on a UN base in South Sudanese in the city of Makal and are afraid to go home. Corpses of camouflaged soldiers lay everywhere in ditches and streets. Shops have been besieged and destroyed, with houses set on fire. Now four days later smoldering ashes remain, leaving a ravaged town hungry with the poor roaming about.
The UN peacekeepers area is not safe either. On Christmas Eve the fighting began between rival soldiers, driving civilians by the thousands in seek of refuge; fear set in and foreigners, including Americans remained trapped. Anarchy, fighting among the rebels and the government gave rise to immense challenges in this newest nation of Africa. This is an oil producing country and an ally of the US. The president, Salva Kiir, has accused Riek Machar, a deputy no longer in office, of attempting to ignite an uprising.
As many as a thousand people may have already died, where the struggle continues for the oil fields and food sources. Malakal won independence in 2011 from Sudan. It contains an airport and analysts are concerned this could be seized. Toby Lanza, a UN rep states, “It’s a key town.” The UN peacekeepers are right in the midst of this anarchy in South Sudan.
The former deputy, Machar, and his loyal soldiers raided Malakal on Christmas Eve, causing the opposition to fight back. Civilians were caught in the cross fire, seeking a way out. The rebels appeared to be youths in uniform and they began looting shops. During the later part of the day, the rebels were controlled by government weapons. A UN worker in Malakal said the dead bodies were kids and they were leveled by government tanks.
Many Kenyans, Somalis and others had come to trade in Malakal and became displaced. They called upon their government officials to get them out from the chaos developing. Sunday, a US plane is expected to arrive and evacuate Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. The UN officials estimate 12,000 people are there but it could be as high as 22,000 and that makes it much worse for this delicate situation. Violence could erupt with water and food in short supply. Of course, sanitation is at risk as diseases could come to surface and spread, such as malaria and cholera. Antibiotics are always in need when a crisis of this magnitude arises.
Witnesses say members of the tribe of Nuer men were beaten after being gathered. Following the gathering, many of the tribesmen were imprisoned and killed. Mass graves ensued. Witnesses reported the soldiers hunted the Nuer and went house to house firing bullets, blindly. This seems to be an ethnic outbreak as women nor children were safe from becoming targets. The Army’s name is Sudan People’s Liberation Army, SPLA, including security and police. Colonel Philip Aguer, the spokesman for the military states, “This is bad behavior and we must carry out a serious investigation.”
The UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that attacks which are targeted against UN or civilians may mean war crimes. Deng Wang, age 34, remembered the Dinka soldiers seizing many civilians and taking them to a grass-thatched house. They were thrown into a room with Nuer men and every night a handful were escorted outside. Gunshots followed, silence ensued and no men returned. From 200 initial men he remained with only eight others. The South Sudanese security rescued them and when leaving they discovered the dead bodies in shallow graves.
The Nuer are easy to spot as they have razored foreheads, six parallel lines emblazoned across them. What does the razor shapes signify? This is the Nuer initiation into becoming an adult. One man named Chio Ring, aged 32, ran to a church and then made his way to the UN base in Juba. These Dinka soldiers have fired into homes and many victims have arrived at the UN base with bullets lodged in their body, leaving the dead behind as they fled to safety.
One woman went back to her home and found it padlocked, She had returned home to gather food and items for her children. The soldiers discovered her, grabbed her and beat the woman as she fought for her life. She was able to escape and shared, “Going back home will be like committing suicide.” The UN peacekeepers are amidst the anarchy of South Sudan and are working to assist these displaced people from the turmoil in Africa.
by Kim Troike