April 23, 2014 (WAU) – More than 1,000 citizens from Sudan’s western Darfur region residing in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal state in South Sudan, staged a peaceful demonstration on Wednesday to protest against the killing of their countrymen in Bentiu last week.
The demonstrators moved quietly through the streets of Wau towards the office of the governor where they handed over a petition asking for the rebels and government to capture those involved in the killing of Sudanese citizens from Darfur at a mosque in Bentiu.
The attack occurred when the rebels, who have been fighting the government since December, overran the Unity state capital, on 15 April, retaking Bentiu for the first time since their coalition of defected soldiers and armed civilians were forced to withdraw in early January weeks after the conflict began.
The rebel fighters are mainly from the Nuer tribe of former vice president Riek Machar, although the political arm of the SPLM-in-Opposition has representatives from across the spectrum of South Sudanese ethnicity.
President Salva Kiir’s supporters are also from a mix of backgrounds but the the rebels have been accused of killing Dinka civilians and the government of targetting Nuer since the conflict began.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) accuses opposition forces of carrying out targeted killings and inciting "vengeful sexual violence" over local radio after regaining control of Bentiu from government troops.
Men, women and children were killed for hiding inside Bentiu hospital and not joining fellow members of the Nuer ethnic group who had gone onto the streets to welcome the rebels forces, UNMISS says.
Members of other South Sudanese communities and Darfuris were also killed at the hospital, according to the UN, who also accuse the rebels of entering a mosque sheltering civilians, separating individuals on the basis of their nationality and ethnic group, and then escorting some to safety, while others were killed.
More than 200 civilians were killed at the mosque, according the UN. However, the Darfuri protestors claimed the number of those killed was higher.
The Darfuri civilians in Wau, most of whom are traders, called on the international community and the government of South Sudan to investigate the mass killing.
The petition was handed over to the Western Bahr El Ghazal governor Rizik Zackariah Hassan and to the acting coordinator of the UN mission in the state, Ms. Led Lyman. It called on the UN to hold a concrete investigation and bring the perpetrators to book.
They also urged government of South Sudan, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian organisations to provide medical treatment to those who survived and have been transported to the UN base in Bentiu.
"Our people were mostly killed innocently in their shops, in the mosque and in the churches where they sought refuge after the first rebel’s attack in Bentiu," said in the statement.
"We are here in South Sudan for the purpose of business, we are not taking part in any political or military activities in South Sudan" the statement said,
"We left Sudan due to instability impose[d] on us by the Khartoum government under the leadership of National Congress Party (NCP)" the petition states, asking "why are the rebels targeting us so much”.
The attack was an "unacceptable" affront to international law, the petition said, especially as the Darfuri community was "impartial" when it came to the conflict in South Sudan.
The rebels have claimed that Darfuri rebel groups have fought alongside the South Sudanese army during the conflict, although this has been denied.
However, the petition blamed the international media and social networks for having reported the allegations, claiming that this played a part in why the rebels targetted people from their community.
The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan in Wau, Led Lyman, told the protesters that the petition would be handed to those senior to her in the mission.
She explained that the "UN had condemned the killing of innocent people in Bentiu".
The South Sudanese rebels have denied the accusations that their fighters carried out targeted killings of Sudanese traders in Bentiu.
Over one million people have been displaced by the conflict and an unknown number - estimated to be over well over 10,000 - of people have been killed. Peace talks are due to resume in Ethiopia before the end of the month.
The UN says it needs urgent reinforcements for its base in Bentiu, where the number of displaced people at the UNMISS protection site has increased from 4,500 to 22,000 in less than a month. The base came under rocket attack on Thursday.
- Over 200 civilians massacred in Unity state’s targeted killings, says UN
- South Sudan rebels deny killing Darfurian traders in Unity state
Tweets from Toby Lanzer the UN assistant secretary-general in South Sudan from his visit to Bentiu this week.
— Toby Lanzer (@tobylanzer) April 20, 2014
— Toby Lanzer (@tobylanzer) April 20, 2014