Fears grow as rebels make more advances
Posted Friday, December 20 2013 at 00:00
Eye witnesses say soldiers are killing people based on their ethnicity and facial features.
Juba- Rebels were yesterday still battling forces of the South Sudan government as days of fierce fighting continues to raise fears of a full scale civil war.
However, regional leaders are scrambling to kick a peaceful end to the conflict.
Rebel troops loyal to fugitive former vice president Riek Machar seized the town of Bor, army spokesman Philip Aguer said.
By yesterday, heavy sounds of gun fire continued to be heard in the eastern Jonglei state following an alleged foiled coup attempt against President Salva Kiir.
“Our soldiers lost control of Bor to the force of Machar on Wednesday... there was shooting last night,” Mr Aguer told AFP.
He confirmed more than 450 people had been killed since the start of fighting, however the UN Humanitarian agency puts the figure at more than 500 people so far killed.
According to the government about 100 soldiers have been killed, but there was reported calm in the capital – Juba.
But Human Rights Watch said witnesses had reported horrific cases of both soldiers and rebels executing people based on their ethnicity, warning it could lead to “revenge attacks and more violence.”
The battles have raised concerns of ethnic conflict, with Mr Kiir coming from the majority Dinka and Machar from the Nuer.
Soldiers in Juba “asked individuals about their ethnicity before killing or releasing them”, or identified them from traditional facial scarring, HRW said, citing witnesses.
However, the government insists the clashes are over power and politics and not based on which sides both leaders from different tribes.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission said it was sheltering civilians in six state capitals, including Juba and Bor, as well as in Bentiu, the main town of the crucial petroleum-producing state of Unity.
Foreigners are being evacuated from the troubled country, with the United States and Britain sending in flights for their citizens, and others fleeing overland south to Uganda.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more terrified civilians have fled their homes to seek protection at UN bases since the fighting broke out.
There were fears that the poor and unstable nation, which broke free from Sudan in 2011, could slide back into all-out conflict.
“The scenario many feared but dared not contemplate looks frighteningly possible: South Sudan, the world’s newest state, is now arguably on the cusp of a civil war,” the International Crisis Group warned yesterday.
President Kiir has blamed the bloodshed on an attempted coup bid by his arch-rival Machar, but has said he was ready to “sit down” with him to try to resolve the crisis.
But Machar, who was sacked by the president in July and is now on the run, has denied any coup attempt, and in turn accuses Mr Kiir of using it as an excuse to purge rivals.