By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
February 20, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese rebels from the SPLM-In-Opposition on Thursday blamed pro-government forces of allegedly igniting tensions among civilians sheltered at the United Nations camp in Malakal, the Upper Nile state capital on Tuesday.
- Civilians fleeing violence seek refuge at a UN camp in Bor, capital of Jonglei state, in South Sudan (AP)
At least 10 people, the UN said, died when inter-communal violence broke out among the displaced people who fled intense fighting in Malakal and sought shelter within its camp.
Eye witnesses said the fight was mainly between the Shilluk and Dinka tribes on one side against the Nuer on the other. Scores of civilians were reportedly also injured during the clashes. Up to 22,000 people were reportedly holed up in its premises following the fighting.
Although it remains unclear what caused the clashes, sources said the incident went out of hand after Nuer youth in the UN camp allegedly attacked the Dinka and Shiluk, accusing them of failing to join the rebellion in support of South Sudan’s former vice-president, Riek Machar.
But an SPLM-In-Opposition Rebel official condemned the unfortunate incident, largely accusing government forces loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir for allegedly inciting the displaced.
"The intention [of government forces] was to come and kill innocent civilian suspected of supporting the rebels,” claimed Steven Puoch Deng, a public relations officer in the humanitarian liaison office of the rebels in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Describing the clash as “unacceptable”, the rebel official urged South Sudanese citizens to remain calm and embrace peace in the face of the ongoing violence in the country.
"You are all IDPs in UN compound in Malakal. No need to victimise yourselves when you are all there looking for protection", he said, while urging UN officials to ensure strict measures were put in place to ensure civilians in the camp were protected from any form of aggression.
"Our people in all UN compounds should not be misled and incited against one another by illegitimate and criminal government in Juba", stressed the rebel official.
“We continue to call on all section of South Sudan society to rise up against the dictatorial regime in juba and remove it from power once and for all so that we have in place, people government which is inclusive, democratic, accountable and transparent to the public", he added.
Second round peace talks between South Sudan government and the SPLM-In-Opposition rebels, initially scheduled to resume last week, did not happen due to unmet rebel demands.
The rebels have maintained they want the four remaining political prisoners released from detention and that the contingent of Ugandan troops supporting South Sudan government be withdrawn from the country.
The two warring factions of South Sudan are now studying a proposed agenda by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on the political settlement and addressing the root causes of the conflict, which has killed thousands since violence erupted in mid-December last year.
The two sides are, however, expected to resume the second round of talks after both sides have agreed on the proposed items of the agenda.
UN URGES CEASEFIRE
The United Nations Secretary-General expressed deep concern over reports of renewed heavy fighting in the Upper Nile state capital since 18 February and the catastrophic consequences for civilian populations.
Ban Ki-Moon, in a statement, urged all parties to the conflict to respect international human rights and humanitarian law and ensure that civilians are protected. He further emphasised that those responsible for crimes committed against civilians in South Sudan will be held accountable.
"The Secretary-General reiterates the necessity for the parties to implement fully the Agreements on Cessation of Hostilities and on the Status of Detainees signed on 23 January, and to cooperate fully with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, which the United Nations stands ready to support," Ki Moon said in a statement issued through his spokesperson.
The Secretary-General, it stressed, also calls on all parties to respect the lifesaving work and ensure unhindered freedom of movement of the UN mission and humanitarian workers as well as engage in serious political negotiations, which is seen as the only means for bringing peace to world’s youngest nation.
Over 700,000 people are internally displaced and a further 135, 000 forced into neighboring Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan for safety.