Thousands flee S. Sudan despite peace efforts


JUBA, South Sudan–Thousands of South Sudanese have fled fighting and extreme hunger in recent weeks, the United Nations says in a report, as leaders struggle to honor a peace deal on the ground. Almost 10,000 civilians have arrived since late December at an already hugely overcrowded U.N. peacekeeping base in the town of Bentiu in the battleground northern Unity region, according to the report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “People from southern Unity continued to arrive … bringing the total number of people at the site to nearly 115,000,” the report, seen Sunday, part of some 193,000 civilians inside U.N. bases across the country. U.N. aid chief in South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, warned the crisis in Unity “is extremely worrying” adding that levels of “malnutrition are extremely high.” The Unity region has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting, including the mass abduction and rape of women and children. In October, U.N.-backed experts warned of a “concrete risk of famine” in parts of Unity if fighting continues with tens of thousands of people feared to be starving to death outside areas aid workers can reach. Some aid has been delivered, but civilians report dire conditions.

“Civilians said they had survived for about seven months hiding in swampy areas and eating wild fruits,” OCHA said, after aid workers visited the badly affected Leer region in southern Unity this week. Thousands more civilians have fled fighting in southern Equatoria regions, areas bordering Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. “New displacement was also reported in Western Equatoria state, where ongoing insecurity has forced thousands to flee their homes, including some 6,100 who have fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo since November 2015,” OCHA added. Despite an August agreement fighting continues, and the conflict now involves multiple militia forces who pay little heed to paper peace deals, driven by local agendas or revenge attacks. The conflict has triggered a humanitarian crisis with 2.3 million people forced from their homes and 4.6 million in need of emergency food aid. Tens of thousands have died and the economy is in ruins. Civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused sacked deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken country along ethnic lines.