News / Africa

S. Sudan Unrest Brings Ethnic Chasm to Forefront

Children of displaced families are seen camped inside Tomping U.N. base near Juba international airport, Dec. 24, 2013.
Children of displaced families are seen camped inside Tomping U.N. base near Juba international airport, Dec. 24, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Hannah McNeish
— As the United Nations moves to deploy more peacekeepers to South Sudan, witnesses say the country is slipping toward civil war. The political conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president has laid bare ethnic tensions that could potentially tear apart the world's newest country.
 
The chaos in South Sudan is evident at the airport in the capital, Juba, where it is standing room only as people push and shove, trying to secure a seat on a plane that will take them out of the country.
 
Out on the streets, it is quiet, but a few hundred meters away at a United Nations peacekeeping base, 10,000 people are hiding from violence that only started 10 days ago but has spread across the nation like a cancer.
 
For Bang Teny, what started as a political struggle in the world's newest country has turned into another internal war, in a country that raised its own flag only two years ago after fighting Sudan for decades.

  • Members of the South Sudan rebel delegation attend the opening ceremony of South Sudan's peace negotiations, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
  • Taban Deng Gai, left, head of the rebel delegation and South Sudan's leader of the government delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial, attend the opening ceremony of South Sudan's peace negotiations, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
  • Unidentified members of the delegation from the South Sudan government and western observers meet at the Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
  • A displaced mother and her baby, one of the few to have a mosquito net, wake up at a refugee camp, Awerial, South Sudan, Jan. 2, 2014.
  • A young displaced girl carries a bucket of water back to her makeshift shelter at a United Nations compound. The compound has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • Displaced people gather inside a mosquito net tent as they flee from the fighting between the South Sudanese army and rebels in Bor town, in Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 30, 2013.
  • A displaced woman hangs up laundry on the plastic sheeting wall of a latrine at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • Yared, 2, is held by his mother, Madhn, who fled from the town of Bor a few days ago. She receives medicine for her child at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) medical tent, at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • A young displaced boy rests on the wheel arch of a water truck while others fill containers from it, at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Africa, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • A family makes tea outside their makeshift shelter at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • A general view of a camp for displaced people set up in a United Nations compound in Bor, South Sudan, Dec. 25, 2013.
  • South Sudan army soldiers hold their weapons as they ride on a truck in Bor, Dec. 25, 2013.

The core of the struggle is the rivalry between the country's two main ethnic groups -- the Dinka and Nuer.  The violence spread from the presidential guard to many divisions of the army.  In short order, gunmen began to target civilians along tribal lines.
 
Bang was among those seeking refuge at the U.N. compound.
 
“There was an incident that we all know of, and for whatever reason, it did not extend from the political parties, it extends to who you are, based on your tribe.  I came to this U.N. compound two hours ago, fearing for my life.  I know a lot of friends who were picked up based on their tribe, and once you are picked up, you will never be seen again,” said Bang.
 
Bang is half Dinka and half Nuer, but says that the Nuer ceremonial scarring on his forehead - four deep lines carving out a boy's transition to manhood - mean that he and many others have been targeted by Dinka forces in the capital Juba.
 
“When you have a mark like myself, they will pick you up.  It doesn't matter whether it's day or night, but usually most of the lynching is done at night, they will pick you up and your family will never see you again,” said Teny.
 
Only traces of life
 
In abandoned neighborhoods across the city, the only traces of life are half-eaten meals, broken chairs, and pairs of shoes lying outside mud houses and tin shops that have been burgled and vandalized.
 
The capital's residents say that men with guns come during the night, followed by trucks to pick up the dead bodies.
 
Sprawled on a mattress in the dirt, a man by the name of Simon said that he and some 250 others were picked up one evening at 8 p.m. local time. He said that they were taken to a police building in a busy suburb, and over the course of two days, shot at through the windows by policemen and soldiers.
 
Simon said he is one of 12 survivors rescued by national intelligence services.  He kept silent despite suffering from four gunshot wounds and being surrounded by decaying corpses.
 
"I had a bad feeling,” he said. “To survive you had to cover yourself with the bodies. During the two days, the bodies of the killed people were smelling too bad. I can't talk too much about it,” said Simon.
 
In another part of the U.N. base, a man named Gatchuak is nursing three bullet wounds and has one arm in a sling. He said he was another survivor of the same incident.
 
“This is one bullet, this one a bullet and this one a bullet, and my left hand side is broken,” he said pointing to parts of his body.  “I'm a civilian. We were captured in Gudele one, with the number of around 275 people, we remain 12 people.  The rest were all killed.”
 
Nuer offensive

Last week, ethnic militias belonging to a Nuer sub-clan stormed a U.N. base in Jonglei state, killing two U.N. peacekeepers, wounding another and killing at least 11 Dinka civilians.
 
Nuer armies fighting under defected commanders or renegade political leaders are on the offensive, having seized two state capitals over the past week, and sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to the bush.

United Nations agencies are struggling to provide aid and protection, said the U.N.'s local humanitarian chief, Toby Lanzer.
 
“I think that some people might not have realized so far is that this really does go across all of the communities.  All communities are being affected at the moment, and everyone has a part to play in making sure that people are safe,” said Lanzer.
 
The U.N. Security Council vote on Tuesday will boost the peacekeeping force in South Sudan  to nearly 14,000.  But unless a political deal is reached and leaders call for calm among communities, the country could soon find itself split along ethnic lines.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid