January 11, 2014 (JUBA/BENTIU) - One of the last remaining humanitarian organisations working in South Sudan’s Unity state said on Friday that their facilities in Bentiu have been looted.
- South Sudanese soldiers listen during a briefing at the army general headquarters in Juba, January 8, 2014. (Photo Reuters/James Akena)
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a statement that the looting jeopardizes the charity’s operations in the area and endangers their ability to respond to the ongoing violence.
MSF staff have been forced to relocate to Leer town on Wednesday due to the deteriorating security situation. Thousands of people are deprived of healthcare in Bentiu, MSF said, warning that an estimated 10,000 displaced people are moving towards Leer.
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) retook Bentiu from rebels on Friday, three weeks after James Koang, who was the commander army in Unity state, began a rebellion on December 20.
Large parts of the army had already defected in Jonglei state following clashes between members of the military in the South Sudanese capital Juba, during which civilians were targetted.
Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF General Director sad that it was "unacceptable that one of the only humanitarian organizations still providing assistance to the population in Bentiu has been looted.”
The medical charity is calling "on all parties to this conflict to respect the integrity of medical facilities grant access to affected communities and allow patients to reach medical facilities irrespective of their origin and ethnicity”.
Since fighting broke out between members of the Presidential Guard on December 15 the conflict spread to Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, which all have significant populations from the Nuer ethnic group, some of whom are alleged to have been targetted during the first few days of fighting Juba.
Reprisal attacks have taken place against members of the Dinka ethnic group, leading to community leaders asking for the 8,000 people sheltering at the United Nations base in Bentiu to be divided along ethnic lines.
Although some of the violence has been along ethnic lines the conflict is a political one between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and Riek Machar, a Nuer who he sacked in July last year along many other senior figures.
Many senior Nuer have sided with Kiir, while Machar is backed by senior Dinka figures in the ruling SPLM and politicians from South Sudan’s many other tribes have not taken sides largely based on political rather than tribal allegiances.
Kiir’s opponents accuse him of using the flare up in the military last month in Juba to silence his increasingly vocal critics, who accuse him of "dictatorial tendencies".
Over 1,000 people are believed to have died and around 200,000 people displaced by the conflict.
MSF said that prior to the crisis the organisation was providing TB, HIV and nutrition care to the local community but it is now focusing on giving post-operative care to the wounded as well as primary healthcare for those who have sought shelter at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Bentiu.
Raphael Georgeu, MSF’s Head of Mission in South Sudan . “MSF won’t be able to resume its much-needed operations in Bentiu until the security of our patients, staff and facilities is guaranteed."
"Thousands of people have fled the city, leaving at the last minute with nothing. We are doing our best to assess if they have access to water, food, and medical care on the road from Bentiu to Leer and are gearing up to provide assistance to those who need it most".
South Sudan’s army said on Friday that 15 tanks and number of heavy weapons were seized when the forces loyal to President Kiir retook Bentiu.
Philip Aguer, the SPLA’s spokesperson said that James Koang and the forces loyal him have fled the town destroying ammunition as they retreated.
Aguer has called upon all soldiers from various army units to mobilise within the next 24 hours for a renewed assault on Bor, the capital of Jonglei state which is also occupied by forces that have defected.
South Sudan’s defense minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said that Bor - which has changed hand three times since the conflict began - would soon be reclaimed.
James Wani Igga, South Sudan’s Vice President also said on Friday that Bor would be retaken and "stability will be restored".