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Violence forces thousands to flee S. Sudan’s counties, says MSF

May 31, 2018 (LEER) - Thousands of people are fleeing for their lives amid a sharp escalation in fighting and attacks on civilians in the Leer and Mayendit counties of South Sudan over the past month, the international medical humanitarian, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said, calling on all armed actors to stop the violence against the local population.

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South Sudanese civilians flee fighting in an United Nations base in the northeastern town of Malakal on February 18, 2016, where gunmen opened fire on civilians sheltering inside killing at least five people. (Photo AFP/Justin Lynch)

Survivors, MSF said in a statement, reported incidences of gang rapes, mass killings, villages looted and burned, and food reserves and possessions destroyed. MSF mobile clinic teams are providing basic medical care to communities that they can reach and have treated 41 survivors of sexual violence in the past month alone.

"People are running away from the ruthless violence of the warring parties," said Akke Boere, MSF operational manager.

"They are caught between the front lines, and are themselves the target of attacks. Many tell us of neighbors and family members killed," he added.

The ongoing clashes are forcing thousands of civilians to seek refuge in the bush, swamps and islands, with some people fleeing repeated attacks, the agency said.

People displaced by the fighting have now gone for more than four weeks without adequate shelter, clean water or food, and little access to medical care. The most vulnerable people, such as children and pregnant women, are at great risk of contracting diseases.

"In our mobile clinics, we are seeing medical issues directly related to the living conditions, including acute watery diarrhea, respiratory and skin infections and musculoskeletal disorders, with patients suffering from muscle or joint pain," said Georgina Brown, MSF medical coordinator in South Sudan.

"The rainy season may worsen the situation considerably."

Attacks against health care facilities are reportedly also cutting off communities from much-needed medical assistance. In two locations where MSF works, medical supplies were looted and property destroyed.

The number of people that MSF is treating for sexual assault is very worrying, according to Brown. In one village, MSF treated 21 survivors of sexual violence in 48 hours, and a few days later, MSF treated 20 survivors in another area.

"We know many survivors don’t receive any treatment," said Brown.

"People are still hiding in the bush and swamp areas because they’re afraid of the ongoing violence, and so they don’t have access to basic services, including health care. Until the violence calms down, we can’t reach these people to give them the treatment they need," she added.

The current fighting, according to MSF, is the latest episode in the violence that has raged in Leer and Mayendit counties for several years. The warring parties have repeatedly targeted the civilian population and forced them to flee without shelter, food, water or medical care.

(ST)