December 20, 2013 (JUBA) – Thousands of people who escaped being taken hostage by rebels in Jonglei state capital Bor are now facing a worsening humanitarian crisis, local residents told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
- Thousands of civilians have sought safety in the UN compound in Bor after the town was captured by rebel forces (Photo: Reuters)
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) estimates that some 5,000 people have taken refuge in its compound in Bor.
An estimated 500 people have died after clashes erupted in Juba on Sunday between rival factions of the presidential guards, in what the government claimed was an attempted coup by former vice-president Riek Machar – accusations he denied.
The fighting followed deepening tensions between president Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former deputy, who hails from the Nuer tribe.
SENIOR OFFICIALS FLEE
At least 5,000 people, who fled Bor after it fell into rebel hands, are camping in Guol-yar in Lakes state, after crossing the river on Wednesday. A fishing centre lying one hour west of Bor, Guol-yar is inhabited by members of Aliap Dinka. Senior members of the Jonglei state government and their families are among those taking refuge in Guol-yar.
“There are thousands of us here, but the situation is becoming unbearable”, said David Malual Wuor, who escaped unhurt after hiring a boat on Wednesday.
“There is no clean water, no food stock and no medication, it is becoming a huge crisis”, added Wuor, who is a dean of students at John Garang Memorial University in Bor.
Jonglei’s caretaker governor, John Kong Nyuon, is thought to be taking refuge inside the UNMISS compound.
There has been no official statement from the scattered Jonglei state government since the South Sudan army (SPLA) forces lost control of the strategic town.
Tens of thousands of civilians from the Dinka Bor ethnic group have fled to surrounding villages, while others remain in hiding in the bush.
Local journalist Manyang David Mayar, who fled Bor on Wednesday, is among thousands of people hiding in swampy mosquito-infested areas along the Nile.
Faced with ongoing food shortages at their hideout, two women attempted to return to Bor, but were subsequently captured and killed, one resident alleged.
“There was no choice; their children were crying too much”, Achiek Chol, a resident of Leudier in Bor told Sudan Tribune on Thursday, though the incident could not be independently verified.
One resident, who is in hiding in the deserted suburbs of Bor, has described scenes of chaos in the capital.
“Numerous people told me the bodies of their [deceased] relatives are rotting on the streets and deserted town suburbs … Sounds of military tanks are being heard patrolling the streets and firing into the residential [areas]. I can’t determine how many they are”, he said.
Foreign nationals who have yet to leave the town are being targeted, with four bodies were found on Thursday - two at the junction of Bor main power station and another two elsewhere, the resident said.
He said the market had been almost completely destroyed, while a number of large buildings, including one that houses branches of the KCB Equity banks, have been looted and partially destroyed.
- Residents make their way to the UN compound in Bor after fighting in Juba spread to Jonglei’s state capital (Photo: UNMISS)
The resident said food shortages were further compounding the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the ground.
“We (adults) are better because we can eat anything that comes around. Our worry is the children. If this situation does not change very soon, in the next 36 hours, it will be worse”, he said.
Jonglei MP Kuol Bol Ayom also described the situation on the ground as alarming, saying there is a growing risk of starvation.
“People are running with children and there is no other way you can take foodstuff with you”, he said.
Meanwhile, civilians taking refuge at the UNMISS camp in Bor said conditions are “extreme” and there are growing fears that fighting may flare within the compound itself.
MINISTERS’ CARS SEIZED
There are also reports that rebel soldiers have been seen driving ministers’ cars around the capital. The vehicles are thought to be those left behind by state officials who fled across the Nile to Lakes state.
“There is another government already in town, only that we don’t what they are up to”, one resident said.
Bor was seized by forces loyal to General Peter Gadat Yak, who commanded the SPLA’s eighth division in Jonglei state, before switching allegiance to Machar and forcing out troops loyal to Kiir on Tuesday in Pan-pandiar and Malual-chaat military barracks south of Bor.
Gadat reportedly defected from the SPLA after it was alleged that army units in Juba were deliberately targeting Nuer civilians.
Gadat forces later merged with other armed units in Bor believed to be from the Nuer tribe and began flushing out soldiers and police in Bor still loyal to the president.
The conflict developing across South Sudan is becoming increasingly tribal in nature, with reports emerging on Thursday that members of the Dinka tribe were targeted in Unity state’s oil fields. At least 16 people were killed in the clashes.
On Thursday, Nuer youths attacked a UNMISS compound in Jonglei’s Akobo county, where a number of Dinka were taking refuge.
As rebels hold Bor for the second day, residents hiding in the suburbs and nearby bushes said gunshots could be heard throughout the night.
“It seems they (rebel soldiers) are enjoying what they looted in the market and homes”, one resident told Sudan Tribune, adding that he had heard celebratory singing coming from the burning market.
The SPLA has not yet indicated what it will do to retake the town. Army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer did not return Sudan Tribune’s calls on Friday.