BOR AND YEI TOWN, SOUTH SUDAN - Hundreds of residents of the Jonglei State capital of Bor are sleeping under the stars after local authorities demolished their houses Tuesday to make way for new roads.
Residents awoke to the sound of a bulldozer destroying their houses in the Marol area, where many South Sudanese had settled illegally after fighting forced them from their homes. The displaced say they have nowhere to go and want the government to give them land on which to settle.
Alek Majok Ayuen sat under a tree beside her three children and a few household belongings as a bulldozer smashed their house.
"They are crashing people's houses and shops. Now the [price of] iron sheets are very high, the [prices of] timbers are very high, [the price of] everything is very high. I don't know how this condition will be with people. That thing is not OK. You can see yourself, now things are outside on the road. Even children, I don't know where they will sleep," Ayuen told South Sudan In Focus.
Resident Mary Adit Deng also watched Tuesday as her house was demolished.
"We came to this place when it was still a forest in 2006, after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We settled here and it became our home. A few years ago, the government surveyed the area but we were not allotted any land to resettle. Now they say that I have to move away from here because the road they want to build will pass through my home. Where should I go?" Deng asked.
Bor resident John James says he welcomes the government's decision to relocate people to make way for a road, but he says officials should compensate residents.
"We have to be shown where to relocate our families first, so that you can move your materials and children," he said. "Now they are destroying houses with timbers and iron sheets. This is not fair whatsoever; it's an attack on families."
Mayor: No compensation
Bor town Mayor Gai Makhor said the town has no intention of compensating residents for the destroyed houses because those people failed to heed his earlier order to relocate.
"These are temporary structures. When you are allotted land that this is your residence, you will be compensated. But when you work on your own without any allotment, how we can compensate you?" Makhor asked South Sudan in Focus.
Makhor said the roads are being constructed to improve development and service delivery. He said legal residents will be allocated new plots.
"We want to make sure our town looks like a town," he said. "I have a list of 199 households which are affected. Very soon, within two months, we are going to give them their new residential area."
Makhor warned residents that security operatives will arrest anyone who obstructs the construction of roads in Bor town.
Alfred Zulu, a human rights officer in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan field office in Bor, condemned the mass displacement of people caused by the demolition. He said the government should have designated alternate land before displacing the residents.
"Two hundred households comprising over 1,000 persons, including children, have been thrown out into the streets and they have nowhere to go. This is a violation of their rights, this is inhumane," Zulu told South Sudan in Focus.
Yei River state
Meanwhile, local leaders and witnesses in Yei River state's Mukaya County say hundreds of civilians were forced to flee their homes after fighting broke out late last week and continued through Monday between SPLA-IO rebels loyal to Riek Machar and a group loyal to former Western Equatoria state governor Joseph Bangasi Bakasoro.
Local officials and witnesses say both parties burned down houses and looted civilians' property. Villagers who fled Mukaya County took shelter at a primary school in Hai Jezira, two kilometers northeast of Yei town.
Many appeared tired and weak after walking more than nine miles from Mukaya to Yei town. Children could be seen crying on their mothers' laps.
Mukaya County elder Alfred Lasuba says there was heavy fighting Monday in Lorega Boma.
"We fled here to escape the suffering there. They searched homes and beat up some of the villagers. They looted property, including [taking our] goats. We were forced to stay in the bushes. That's why we thought it wise to come into the town," Lasuba told South Sudan in Focus.
Lasuba says hundreds of others, especially women and children, remain stranded in the bush without food or water.
Villager Grace Roba says she and five members of her family walked from Mukaya County in the bush the entire night before reaching Yei County on Tuesday morning. Women are tired of the war, she said, while holding back tears.
"This fighting is causing us a lot of pain, and yet we civilians have nothing to do with it. Life was better during the 21-year-old war with Khartoum than during this current war. While people are expecting peace, the armed groups have started fighting again," Roba told VOA.
Thomas Bidali also fled to Yei County. He said the rebels burned down his house.
"My home was set on fire and I decided to run. We fled as a group through the bush yesterday until we reached Yei," Bidali told VOA.
Appeal for help
Internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are appealing to the government and aid agencies for emergency food and water. Peter Butili Parajallha, head of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in Yei River State, says his office has registered up to 300 IDPs who fled Mukaya County.
"There are 67 households with a total population of 307, mostly children, women and old people," Parajallha said. "They are tired, hungry and walked the whole night without food. We at RRC gave them a bag of rice for the children, with two big tents to shelter in. I am appealing to the NGOs with food and the community to rush with some food to save the lives of the people."