South Sudanese Flee One of Country’s Last Peaceful Towns

YUMBE, UGANDA � Once a safe haven for those trying to escape South Sudan’s conflict, Yei is the latest town to be engulfed by violence in the country’s civil war.

In Yei, the population often falls asleep to gunfire and wakes up to soldiers patrolling the streets. The army, made up primarily of soldiers belonging to the Dinka ethnic group of President Salva Kiir, controls all roads leading out of town.

One hundred thousand people are believed to be trapped inside the city. Another 150,000 have fled, with many heading across the border for Uganda, to the south.

Civilians who have fled Yei and arrived in the Ugandan refugee camps tell of kidnappings, abuses and disappearances taking place inside Yei and along the road between South Sudan and the Ugandan border.

In Yei, people are dying like insects, says Michael Ayume, a newly arrived refugee in Uganda, and the leader of a Yei merchants’ organization.

In September, 75 boda boda drivers from Yei were arrested by government troops, he says. A boda is a small motorbike and a common form of transportation in South Sudan.

These guys, they were just young men doing their business, says Ayume. Twenty-one were later released. The others? We never saw them again.

An oasis from war shattered

Until the middle of this year, Yei was largely spared the violence that has ravaged South Sudan since December 2013, when fighting erupted between supporters of President Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar.

Then, in August, government forces — soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) — entered Yei, a town surround by farmland in the country’s south. The soldiers were looking for rebels — members of the the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (the IO).

They didn’t find any SPLM-IO members, but did encounter local forces that resisted the offensive.

Soon, Yei was witness to heavy fighting and attacks on civilians in Yei and the surrounding villages intensified.

A report by Human Rights Watch this week says that both sides have committed serious abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and sexual abuse, against civilians in and around Yei.

A spokesperson for South Sudan’s armed forces, Lul Ruai Koang, denied the SPLA is responsible for any abuses against civilians in Yei. The local forces do not have a spokesperson and have not issued any statement.

In recent weeks, 2,000 people per day have crossed the border into northern Uganda, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. Many of the refugees are women and children.

One of those women is Joy, a 28-year-old who left Yei for Uganda with her daughter in August.

Only a few kilometers from the border, the car carrying Joy and several others fleeing Yei was stopped by government soldiers.

The Dinka men stopped the car and asked us to get out. They would not allow us to leave. We had to abandon the car and hide in the bush, she says.

Joy was able to get across the border, but on foot.

My husband is still in Yei, she says. He can’t move anywhere. The roads are blocked. I don’t know when I will see him again.

No plans to return

Prospects for peace in Yei and the rest of South Sudan are looking grim at the moment.

Efforts to end the civil war appear to be making no progress. A power sharing agreement signed in Ethiopia in August 2015 has been violated numerous times. Fighting that broke out around the presidential palace in Juba in July prompted a newly-returned Machar to flee the country for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the U.N. peacekeeping force to South Sudan, known as UNMISS, lacks the resources to protect the population.

And the U.N. special advisor for genocide, Adama Dieng, warned of a potential for genocide in South Sudan.

Across the border in Uganda, Joy doesn’t think she will return to South Sudan any time soon.

We are tired of this war, she says. I think of my daughter. What future she will have in South Sudan?

Source: Voice of America

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Thousands Trapped by Fighting in South Sudan Receive Emergency Aid

JUBA � The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it is distributing life-saving items to more than 6,000 vulnerable families trapped by fighting in Yei River state over the last six months. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) say they welcome the relief aid but want to be allowed to safely return to their home villages so they can harvest the crops they planted. The food rations they are receiving are not enough to survive on.

UNHCR officials said more than 10,000 families were displaced from their homes in Yei County after fighting broke out between government forces and armed opposition groups aligned to former First Vice President Riek Machar.

U.N. agencies say humanitarian conditions deteriorated quickly because aid workers were not able to access the area due to rampant insecurity.

Aid is welcomed

Ana Roba and her seven children are some of the displaced villagers receiving food assistance from UNHCR. The Roba family was displaced two months ago from Day Star, an area about two kilometers from Yei town.

Roba and her children now stay with relatives near the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan offices in Yei.

Roba said she welcomes the food aid provided by UNHCR, but worries about others still hiding in the bush.

I have a suggestion: If they are distributing these items, let’s receive them because they help other colleagues be happy. It’s not only you who received food that will be happy. They [also] need [to reach our] brothers and sisters, too. If everybody receives, I think there will be nothing bad. We don’t want it [to be] that others are sad when we are happy,” Roba said.

Food rotting in fields

Mawa Fredrick was displaced from Lopapa village near Yei along with nine members of his family. He said the food being provided to the IDPs is not enough. He said all he wants is access to his land so he can harvest the crops he has been growing.

We have food which is rotting in the field whether being cassava, sweet potatoes, G-nuts and so on, but the difficulty is how to access it to bring it home. When this food has come, it has helped us, Fredrick said.

Fredrick said South Sudan’s leaders should restore peace so he can return to his village where he can lead a normal life without the sound of guns.

We need peace in our country so that we can also build our country, not always going to neighbors as if we are orphans depending on uncles to [bring] us up, like now our children are going to get education outside,” Fredrick said.

UNHCR is distributing blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, soap and other items to IDPs.

Call for peace

Richard Ruati is UNHCR’s Assistant External Relations Officer for South Sudan. He is calling on the warring parties in Yei to cease hostilities and ensure a stable environment for humanitarian actors to reach vulnerable people in remote villages.

We are all appealing to the government and the armed groups who are operating in some of the areas we are supposed to deliver services in, to give corridor to humanitarian actors and the displaced persons to move freely, Ruati said.

Aid workers and local leaders say thousands of Yei residents have been forced to flee to neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo because of the rampant insecurity.

The U.N. also said at least 100,000 Yei residents have been stranded within the town, with no means of escape.

Source: Voice of America

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