South Sudanese troops target civilians in latest ethnic violence
Africa | At least 16 people killed as human rights groups say country has descended into genocide
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/11/17, 10:06 am
South Sudan’s government forces on Monday targeted and killed at least 16 civilians from specific ethnic groups in the town of Wau, residents and aid workers said. The attack is the latest against civilians and follows several warnings of a possible genocide looming in the war-torn country.
Residents of the town said most of the soldiers dressed in military uniforms and carried the country’s flag. The attack followed a weekend ambush in Wau by rebel fighters that killed government troops. Yesterday’s retaliatory attack specifically targeted people from the Fertit and Luo ethnic groups, witnesses said. Residents said they remained indoors, since the troops killed people who tried to run.
“We are still hiding,” one anonymous resident told Reuters. “I have seen four dead bodies of my neighbors.”
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan confirmed the unrest and said in a statement 84 people arrived safely at its protection site.
“The mission mounted two patrols into Wau on Monday and said it had observed the bodies of 16 civilians in a hospital,” the statement said. “There were 10 people who had been injured.”
The International Committee for the Red Cross also confirmed the clashes and said it flew in a surgical team yesterday to assist the wounded. Rev. Moses Peter, a priest in Wau, told South Sudan’s Radio Miraya that more than 3,000 people, mostly women and children, sought shelter at the nearby Catholic Church.
South Sudan fell into a civil war in 2013 when fighting broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, who is from the Dinka ethnic group, and former Vice President Riek Machar, who is Nuer. The UN concluded after a March inquiry that the situation in South Sudan meets the conditions for genocide, including the use of ethnic cleansing. The country has 64 ethnic tribes, with Dinkas in the majority.
Nelson Alusula, a research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said South Sudan’s ethnic clashes began before the 2013 civil war. He described the latest attack by government troops as “a show of force” in a conflict that continues to target vulnerable populations.
Ebrahim Deen, a researcher with the Afro Middle East Center in South Africa, said the violence can only be stopped if peace efforts exclude the current president and the country’s ethnic groups participate in reconciliatory meetings. South Sudan’s warring factions have signed several ceasefire agreements and ratified peace deals but consistently failed to abide by any. Deen said Kiir must be excluded from the peace efforts with the help of international pressure.
“[The peace process] needs to be done with the South Sudanese civil society and Christian institutions, not the current leadership,” Deen said.
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.