News / Africa

Thousands Flee S. Sudan Town as Government Troops Advance

  • Three children walk through a spontaneous camp for internally displaced persons at the United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Juba, Jan. 9, 2014.
  • People unload the few belongings on Jan. 9, 2014 at Minkammen, South Sudan, that they were able to bring with them to camps for the displaced.
  • Displaced men recuperate from their injuries as they rest on the floor at a United Nations hospital in Tomping camp, near Juba, Jan. 7, 2014.
  • A displaced man, undergoing treatments for his injuries, is seen at a United Nations hospital at Tomping camp, near Juba, Jan. 7, 2014.
  • Soldiers from Rwanda serving under United Nations Mission in South Sudan keep watch from an observatory point at Tomping camp, near Juba, Jan. 7, 2014.
  • Displaced people wash their clothes in a drainage canal at Tomping camp, near Juba, Jan. 7, 2014.
  • Displaced people prepare their meals at Tomping camp near Juba, Jan. 7, 2014.
  • Refugees who fled the recent violence in South Sudan and crossed the border into Uganda, settle in the village of Ochaya, Jan. 7, 2013.
  • Refugees who fled the recent violence in South Sudan and crossed the border into Uganda rest and await transportation from a transit center in Koboko, Jan. 6, 2014.
  • Refugees who fled the recent violence in South Sudan and crossed the border into Uganda are seen in Koboko, Jan. 6, 2014.
Displaced South Sudanese
VOA News
Thousands of civilians have fled a state capital in South Sudan, amid fears of new clashes between rebels and government soldiers.

U.N. humanitarian official Toby Lanzer visited Bentiu on Thursday.  In a series of Twitter messages, he said he saw "virtually no civilians" in the center of town, and that shops in Bentiu's main market have been looted and largely destroyed.

Reports from the area say army troops loyal to President Salva Kiir are advancing toward the town, which has been held for several weeks by rebels who support the president's rival, Riek Machar.

Peace talks between the sides in Ethiopia remained at an impasse, with the government again refusing to release 11 political detainees, as demanded by the rebels.

A rebel spokesman at the Addis Ababa talks used the stalemate Thursday to accuse Ugandan forces and gunships of attacking rebel positions. However, Uganda claims its military presence in South Sudan is limited to protecting its stranded countrymen.

For his part, the lead Sudanese government negotiator dismissed the rebel claims of Ugandan aerial attacks as "hostile propaganda."

In remarks to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the U.S. is strongly urging a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

"This crisis will not be solved on the battlefield, and we have made that point over and over again," she said.  "Although fighting started less than one month ago, the roots of this conflict are much deeper, and resolution can only come from immediate dialogue between the two sides and a broader reconciliation."

A senior United Nations official warned Thursday that the death toll from recent fighting in South Sudan is likely to be “very substantially” in excess of the 1,000 deaths confirmed so far.  U.N. peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous told reporters that some 250,000 people in South Sudan have been displaced from the deadly fighting that erupted between rival political factions last month.

“As to the victims, so far we are not able to provide a final figure, but we do know that it will be very substantially in excess of the figure of 1,000 that we know for sure about,” he said.

Ladsous told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council that the additional 5,500 peacekeepers authorized by the council last month have begun arriving from other U.N. missions and should all be in place and operational within the next four to eight weeks.

“The priorities now for the U.N. are very clearly in this situation -- to focus on protection of civilians, on human rights, and on helping our humanitarian colleagues to access those populations in need,” he said.

The United Nations says more than 60,000 are sheltering on U.N. bases throughout the country, including 8,000 in Bentiu.

On Thursday, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said the U.N. is releasing $15 million to support relief efforts in South Sudan.  She said U.N. agencies will use the funds to improve living conditions of people stuck in overcrowded camps.

South Sudan's unrest began December 15 with fighting at an army headquarters in the capital, Juba.  President Kiir accused his former vice president, Machar, of a coup attempt.  

Many soldiers aligned themselves with Machar and seized control of Bentiu and the Jonglei state capital, Bor.  Heavy fighting has been reported this week in several parts of the country.

Witnesses say the recent violence has an ethnic component, with targeted attacks between supporters of Kiir, from the Dinka tribe, and Machar, who is from the Nuer community.

(VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.)

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Comment Sorting
by: Abramiah Mponda from: Gauteng South Africa
January 09, 2014 11:36 AM
South Sudan Leaders are suffering from Historical Amnesia.They witnessed most African states like Somalia,DRC,CAR,Cote de voire suffering and teetering on the brink of Failed States or Utterly failed States.lts disappointing that they are killing the New Born Child South Sudan at infancy through a civil war that can be avoided.They must sit down and resolve matter amicably for the sake of the people,region and Africa as a whole.

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