Friday, May 22, 2015

Amnesty: South Sudan government troops are burning villages

Amnesty: South Sudan government troops are burning villages


KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — South Sudan government troops are setting villages on fire and abusing civilians in an ongoing military assault on rebels loyal to the country's former vice president, Amnesty International reported Thursday, the latest allegations of serious rights abuses since the resumption of heavy fighting last month.
Citing witness accounts in Unity state, the watchdog group reported Thursday that fighters in South Sudan military uniforms — and others in civilian clothing —have attacked villages using axes, machetes and guns.
Despite the spike in fighting the international community is "reluctant to take bold steps toward addressing repeated atrocities," Michelle Kagari, deputy director with Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Aid groups have recently pulled out of battle zones, leaving thousands of people in need as rebel forces fight for control of the country's crucial oil fields. South Sudan depends heavily on its oil exports to keep the government running and the military's latest assault is widely seen as an attempt to secure all the oil fields and get them running. But the rebels are fighting back, leaving thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire.
Rebel forces on Wednesday said they were poised to take the oil hub of Paloch in Upper Nile state, but the military said it repulsed the attack.

In its report Thursday, Amnesty International cited the account of women, including a mother of three who recalled being raped by one fighter while another pointed a gun at her.

It was not immediately possible to get a comment from South Sudan's military, which routinely denies such charges.

The alleged rights violations are taking place in areas where there are few independent monitors, with the regional mediating group known as IGAD saying last week its officials were prevented from monitoring the fighting near Bentiu, Unity state's capital.

The United Nations on Thursday said heavy fighting resumed in the morning around the town of Melut in Upper Nile state, where four civilians, including a woman and a child, were killed on Tuesday when two mortar bombs exploded inside a U.N. compound.

"It remains unclear who is in control of the town," the deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq, told reporters. He said seven displaced civilians have so far been killed in the crossfire. Some 20,000 people who had been sheltering outside the U.N. base there have scattered, he said.

Journalist Pow James Raeth was shot dead Wednesday by unknown perpetrators in Akobo, Jonglei state, said his employer, South Sudan's Radio Tamazuj. He is the sixth journalist killed in South Sudan this year.


South Sudanese shot and drown in the bush as they flee fighting


By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An upsurge in fighting has forced tens of thousands of South Sudanese into the bush where they have been shot, drowned and abducted, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday.

MSF evacuated its hospital in Leer, in South Sudan's northern oil-rich Unity State, on May 9 as government forces advanced on the rebel-controlled town.

It spoke by satellite phone to a member of staff who had fled to an island in a swamp with many residents of the town.

"Men with guns came on to the island and started shooting at the civilians," Paul Critchley, MSF's South Sudan head of mission said at a news conference.

Everyone ran into the water where they hid for about nine hours.

"When he could go back to the island, he gave the bodies of two young children that he had recovered from the water to their parents," Critchley said.

A woman was also abducted and her baby is being looked after by other people, he said.
The world's newest state, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011, was plunged into conflict nearly 18 months ago between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy, Riek Machar.

Renewed fighting has forced thousands to flee their homes in recent days and some 650,000 civilians are without access to aid, according to the U.N.'s Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan.
MSF estimated that half a million people in Unity State are hiding with no access to clean water, food or healthcare.

"They will be trying to live off wild fruits, susceptible to malaria, susceptible to diarrheal diseases, have little or no shelter," Critchley said.

Civilians and medical facilities have been targeted repeatedly in South Sudan's conflict, which has reopened ethnic faultlines between Kiir's Dinka people and Machar's forces, who are largely ethnic Nuer.

There has also been heavy fighting in Melut, close to a major oilfield in Upper Nile State. MSF staff ran to the United Nations base in the town on Tuesday, where they have been treating eight people who were shot.
"They were wounded as a result of stray bullets that came into the compound from outside," said MSF's deputy program manager for South Sudan, Johanna Van Peteghem.

With more than 20,000 people fleeing to U.N. bases in the northern towns of Malakal and Bentiu over the last few weeks, sites are becoming overcrowded and inter-communal tensions are escalating, MSF said.
The rainy season has begun in South Sudan, which increases the risk of diseases like cholera, malaria and diarrhea. 

(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Ros Russell)


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