South Sudan: An ever-deepening cycle of violence

Al Jazeera, 9 July 2016 

Thousands of civilians have been forcefully displaced from their homes by government soldiers and militiamen.

IN PICTURES /AFRICA

On the fifth anniversary of its independence from Khartoum, South Sudan finds itself plunged into an ever-deepening cycle of violence. Despite a peace agreement in August and the formation of a transitional government of national unity in Juba in April, fighting has escalated across the country in recent weeks.

On June 24, more than 100,000 civilians were forced from their homes in the town of Wau in the northwest when a force of government soldiers and irregular Dinka militia entered the town. The men, armed with guns, pangas and spears, went from house to house in the south and west of the town, attacking civilians and looting their property, sources in Wau told Al Jazeera. Those targeted were mainly from a group of tribes collectively known as Fertit. Dozens were killed and many more injured.

According to figures from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 50,000 were displaced in Wau within the first week, and the numbers have since continued to grow. The International Committee of the Red Cross told Al Jazeera that by June 30 it had given aid to 73,000 people displaced outside the town.

  • Civilians displaced from Wau by government violence in 2016 subsist on fruit
  • Medical facility in Mboro South Sudan for civilians displaced by government violence in Wau, June 2016
  • Forced displacement of civilians around Wau in 2016 has left schools and health services abandoned
  • Forty-year-old Elizabeth fled Wau on June 24 at the height of the shooting in the town, walking all night in the rain with her five children aged six months to seven years. She returned to the town five days later to find her house had been looted. Her youngest child fell sick and is being treated at a Wau hospital. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA
  • At least 13 civilians killed in the attacks on Wau were buried in the grounds of St Mary’s Cathedral. Bodies were buried two to a grave. Many of the bodies were recovered, already rotting, from a Wau hospital by a priest at the cathedral, Father Natale, and other church workers. The church had not previously been used for burials. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA
  • In just 10 days, more than 19,700 people were displaced to a site next to the UNMISS peacekeeping base. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA
  • Already there are signs of permanency at the UNMISS camp. Despite the UN’s determination that the site does not become another long-term protection of civilians site, residents of the camp are afraid to return to their homes. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA
  • With the existing camp at capacity and overcrowding acute, preparations are already being made for its expansion. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA
  • The spontaneous displacement created immediate security concerns for thousands of IDPs staying on a site protected by nothing but barbed wire. A UN armoured personnel carrier is now stationed at the site, and UN troops are patrolling the perimeter. But there are only 10 troops on duty at any one time, and there are concerns that the extension of the camp is taking new residents further away from the UNMISS base. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA
  • There are also concerns for the security of those who go beyond the perimeter of the camp to collect provisions such as firewood. Two civilians were killed near the base on the first weekend of the displacement, and camp residents reported that SPLA soldiers had threatened their safety should they leave the camp. RICHARD NIELD / AL JAZEERA
  • In a now almost deserted part of town where security concerns are acute, the Holy Family Church in the Nazareth district is providing refuge to more than 5,000 people, according to the parish priest, Father Archangel. Locals buried about 17 people killed by government soldiers and militia in the grounds of family houses near the church. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA
  • Thirty-one-year-old Fatna was shot by soldiers on July 7 and her phone and money taken. It was only because she was from the Jur Chol tribe, and not Fertit, that the soldiers spared her life, she said. She is a single mother of six children, five of whom are living in the grounds of St Mary’s Cathedral. RICHARD NIELD/AL JAZEERA

This photostory was originally published by Al Jazeera

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Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.