As South Sudan Fighting Worsens, U.N. Reports Mass Graves

As South Sudan Fighting Worsens, U.N. Reports Mass Graves

James Akena/Reuters

A displaced family from South Sudan’s Nuer tribe, who fled their home amid ethnic violence, built a makeshift shelter inside the United Nations Mission in Sudan facility Monday on the outskirts of capital Juba.

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Published: December 24, 2013
JUBA, South Sudan — The top human rights official at the United Nations expressed deep concern on Tuesday about the escalating conflict in South Sudan, reporting the discovery of at least one mass grave in recent days and the arrests of hundreds of civilians in searches of homes and hotels in the capital of Juba and elsewhere.

The statement by the official, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, added a new level of urgency to the crisis in South Sudan, a fledgling nation that has moved closer to civil war in the past week, fueled by political rivalries that have stoked longstanding ethnic divisions.

On Monday, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, urged a major increase in peacekeeping troops in the country, where the organization’s bases in Juba and other cities have become de facto sanctuaries for tens of thousands of civilians trying to escape the violence. Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, and Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, an oil producing area, are considered especially tense and dangerous.

Hundreds of people, and possibly many more, have been killed in more than a week of clashes and confusion around the country.

In a statement, Ms. Pillay said, “Mass extrajudicial killings, the targeting of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity and arbitrary detentions have been documented in recent days.”

The statement said officials had “discovered a mass grave in Bentiu, in Unity State, and there are reportedly at least two other mass graves in Juba.” It was the first time that the United Nations had reported the existence of mass graves.

Ms. Pillay expressed “serious concern about the safety of those who have been arrested and are being held in unknown locations, including several hundred civilians who were reportedly arrested during house-to-house searches and from various hotels in Juba.”

It took decades of fighting, negotiation and diplomacy to forge the nation of South Sudan, but little more than a week of violent clashes and political brinkmanship to push it to the precipice.

South Sudan was born in the summer of 2011 with great hope and optimism, cheered on by global powers like the United States that helped shepherd it into existence. The new nation was carved out of Sudan to end one of Africa’s longest and costliest civil wars.

But the rivalry between two of South Sudan’s political leaders, President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, along with the divisions between their ethnic groups, threatens what little cohesion holds the state together.

As diplomats scrambled to get South Sudan’s colliding leaders to sit down for talks, Mr. Kiir’s government warned on Monday that it would march on a pair of strategic cities it had lost to opposing forces. One lies in Unity, a state that is central to South Sudan’s oil production, a linchpin of the economy and the country’s hopes for future development. The other, Jonglei, is home to a United Nations base where an estimated 17,000 people have taken shelter from thousands of encroaching militiamen.

At a closed meeting of the Security Council on Monday afternoon, United Nations officials said that fighting could break out within 48 hours in Bor, the site of the United Nations base, and that civilians had also begun to flee Juba, a diplomat said.

The fighting erupted last week in the capital after what Mr. Kiir described as an attempted coup by forces loyal to Mr. Machar, but it quickly spread to other parts of the country. Last week, United Nations officials said that 2,000 armed youths had overrun a United Nations base in the town of Akobo, killing at least 11 civilians sheltering there and two peacekeepers trying to protect them. An additional 20,000 civilians have crammed into the two United Nations compounds in Juba, frightened of arrest or attacks by state security forces if they left.

As the situation deteriorated, three American aircraft flying into South Sudan to evacuate American citizens in Bor were attacked on Saturday morning and forced to turn back. Four Navy Seals were wounded, one seriously.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it was stepping up its planning to evacuate Americans and protect those who remain in South Sudan. About 150 Marines and six transport aircraft are being sent from Spain to Djibouti, where an emergency force was created in the wake of the deadly attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

<img src=””/>          Nick Kulish reported from Juba, South Sudan, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt in Washington and Somini Sengupta in Los Angeles.

Source: New York Times

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