GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The United Nations refugee agency says a surge of violence in South Sudan's Yei State has displaced some 8,000 civilians and sent an estimated 5,000 people fleeing to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Clashes between the South Sudanese army and a rebel group, the National Salvation Front or NAS, broke out on January 19. This was barely four months after the latest peace deal aimed at ending the country's five-year civil war was signed by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar.
U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch told VOA violence has been going down since then. And, he said, the two major parties that signed the accord appear to be sticking to it.
"Let us not forget South Sudan has over 70 factions in terms of small groups and rebel groups…and NAS, as far as I understand, is led by Thomas Cirillo. And, we also understand that his group refused to sign the peace agreement," said the spokesman.
The fighting reportedly is taking place outside the town of Yei, close to the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Baloch said most of those fleeing by foot to Congo are women, children and the elderly. He said they arrive exhausted, hungry, thirsty and in some cases, sick.
"Among them are people suffering from malaria or other illnesses. Many have suffered from trauma after witnessing violent incidents, including armed men reportedly murdering and raping civilians and looting villages," said Baloch.
The refugees are arriving in remote border villages in Congo's Ituri Province, an area close to Ebola-affected North Kivu Province. A World Health Organization spokesman said there is no indication the disease has spread to this region. But he said the risk is there, so border crossings are being monitored carefully.