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Up to 50 000 civilians at risk in war-torn South Sudan

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May 4, 2017 (MALAKAL) – Up to 50, 000 civilians in South Sudan’s oil-producing Upper Nile region are at imminent risk of human rights violations as government troops close in, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Thursday.

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A view of the Protection of Civilians (POC) site near Bentiu, in Unity State, South Sudan (Photo UN/JC McIlwaine)

The official, in a statement, urged South Sudan to halt any further military offensives towards Aburoc on the west bank of the River Nile in the Upper Nile region, where between 35,000 and 50,000 people, most of whom arrived in recent weeks are currently sheltering.

There are concerns that rebels have positioned themselves in close proximity to civilian areas, placing civilians clearly in danger in the event of an attack by the army and affiliated forces, the U.N said.

“Civilians in Aburoc are at serious and imminent risk of gross human rights violations, inter-ethnic violence and re-displacement," Zeid said.

The senior U.N official expressed concerns over the plight of hundreds of people who reportedly walked long distance, amid reports many died along on way from dehydration and exhaustion.

“The rest ended up in Aburoc where, weary and frightened, they face grave violence and shortages of food, water and healthcare,” said Zeid, adding “These are women, children and men at the mercy of military commanders, on both sides of the political divide, who have consistently shown little or no regard for the protection of civilians.”

The official urged the government to adhere to the pledges made by President Salva Kiir on 25 March, when he committed to declare a unilateral ceasefire, and to work towards political engagement to bring the conflict to an end. He further called on all parties to the South Sudan conflict to comply with international humanitarian law, including taking all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.

“The civilians in Aboruc have nowhere left to go, with the SPLA closing in from the south and options to flee northwards severely limited and fraught with danger,” Zeid said.

“I urge the SPLM/A-IO to ensure that areas containing large numbers of civilians, including Aburoc, are demilitarized and that measures are taken to ensure the protection of civilians under their control,” he added.

Government, Zeid urged, should grant the U.N Mission in South Sudan access to Aburoc and Kodok, and to ensure that humanitarian agencies are able to deliver crucial aid to the internally displaced.

(ST)

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