Children displaced by recent fighting in South Sudan react to the camera from behind a fence at the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS) facility in Jabel, on the outskirts of capital Juba
JUBA: Thousands of South Sudanese have been killed in over a week of violence with reports of bodies piled in mass graves, the UN said yesterday, amid ongoing battles in the young nation threatening to slide into civil war.
The top UN humanitarian chief in the country Toby Lanzer said yesterday there was “absolutely no doubt in my mind that we’re into the thousands” of dead, the first clear indication of the scale of conflict and ethnic violence engulfing the world’s youngest country.
However, the government also celebrated yesterday the important and strategic recapture of the key town of Bor after a nearly week-long rebel occupation, although large areas remain out of their control.
Earlier, UN rights chief Navi Pillay said a mass grave had been found in the rebel-held town of Bentiu, while there were “reportedly at least two other mass graves” in the capital Juba.
The grim discovery follows escalating battles between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing his rival Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked in July.
The official toll nationwide has stood at 500 dead for days, although numbers are feared to be far higher, aid workers say.
Witnesses that AFP has spoken to recount a wave of atrocities, including an orchestrated campaign of ethnic mass killings
and rape. In a Christmas message to the people, Kiir said that “innocent people have been wantonly killed”, warning the violence risked spiralling out of control.
“There are now people who are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation... It will only lead to one thing and that is to turn this new nation into chaos,” Kiir said in a statement. The unrest has taken on an ethnic dimension, pitting Kiir’s Dinka tribe against the Nuer tribe to which Machar belongs.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has warned reports of crimes against humanity will be investigated, as well as asking the Security Council to nearly double the size of the UN mission in the country. However, Machar said for the first time yesterday that he was “ready” to accept Kiir’s offer of talks, suggesting neighbouring Ethiopia as a neutral location.