Armed clashes in South Sudan’s far north have forced thousands of civilians to flee in recent weeks, with some hiding in swamps and eating wild plants to survive, UN agencies have said.
The bloodshed in Upper Nile state has killed an unknown number of people, with rape and the kidnapping of civilians reported as the conflict intensifies.
UN humanitarian aid agency, OCHA said more than 9,100 people have been displaced since clashes between armed factions erupted in Upper Nile’s Fashoda county in mid-November.
Violence is common in parts of South Sudan where local disputes over grazing areas, water, cultivation grounds and other resources often turn deadly.
The latest bloodshed is a continuation of fighting that started in August in a village in Upper Nile and has since spread to other parts of the state and areas of Jonglei and Unity states, UN refugee agency UNHCR said.
At least 20,000 people have fled the violence since it erupted in August, including 3,000 who crossed the border into Sudan.
Those unable to flee, such as the elderly and disabled, had sought refuge in the bush along the banks of the White Nile, the agency said.
There are particular fears for residents trapped in the town of Kodok, in Fashoda county.
A UN protection camp in nearby Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state, has received more than 2,300 people since the latest fighting began, Ocha said.
“According to local responders, at least 75 per cent of the newly displaced are women and children, with many children separated from their caregivers,” the agency said.
Survivors told UNHCR that dozens were killed or wounded in the attack, while others drowned trying to escape. In another location, people were eating wild plants to survive.
“Their situation is desperate,” said UNHCR’s country representative Arafat Jamal, who described witnessing “the aftermath of raw violence” in some villages that had been raided.
The UN’s mission in South Sudan has appealed for government forces based in Kodok to intervene.
At the close of a ruling party conference on Tuesday, President Salva Kiir said he “cannot stop” the fighting in Upper Nile and called on all sides to embrace peace.
On Wednesday, the president’s office said: “Despite the complexity, the President is determined to do whatever it takes to end this violence in Upper Nile and other regions of South Sudan.”
Last week, the UN convened a meeting with diplomats from the African Union and the international community to discuss the crisis.
South Sudan achieved independence in 2011 but descended into a civil war two years later that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
A peace deal was signed in 2018 but sporadic bursts of violence between government and opposition forces continue, while conflict between rival ethnic groups in lawless parts of the country exacts a terrible toll on civilians.
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