UN: Hundreds of thousands displaced in South Sudan

UN: Hundreds of thousands displaced in South Sudan
Mon Dec 23, 2013 12:09:51

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian crisis in South Sudan as the nation experiences a deadly conflict that has killed more than 500 people.

Toby Lanzer, the South Sudan humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations, said on Sunday that the week-long political fallout between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, has worsened the situation.

“It would have been difficult one week ago to imagine that things would have unraveled to this extent.”

Lanzer, who is also the deputy head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), added that “there are hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who’ve fled into the bush or back to their villages to get out of harm’s way.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the turmoil since fighting began after the South Sudanese president accused the former vice president of trying to stage a coup.

Joseph Contreras, the acting spokesperson for UNMISS, said that UN staff are trying to provide the refugees with food and shelter, but that it will get harder to cater for them all.

“Our resources are stretched very, very tightly but we are continuing to stand by the people of Unity State,” he said.

“The Mission has a collective resolve to remain in South Sudan and will not be intimidated and will continue to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians.”

Rebel groups have seized towns and oil fields, and militias from the country’s two largest tribes have been engaged in clashes recently.

Colonel Philip Aguer, the South Sudanese military spokesman, said on Sunday that Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, is now under the control of rebels.

“Bentiu is in the hands of a commander who has declared support for Machar,” he said. “Bentiu is not in our hands.”

Machar had said on December 23 that his troops have captured the state of Unity and have control of much of the country.

The UN also said that it plans to dispatch more peacekeepers to embattled towns in South Sudan and evacuate “non-critical” staff.

“We are not abandoning South Sudan,” said the UN Special Representative for South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, adding, “To anyone who wants to threaten us, attack us or put obstacles in our way, our message remains loud and clear: we will not be intimidated.”

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 after its people overwhelmingly voted in a referendum for a split from the North.


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