South Sudan sees 'mass ethnic killings'

James Copnall: "Atrocities have been committed on all sides"

New evidence is emerging of alleged ethnic killings committed during more than a week of fighting in South Sudan.

The violence follows a power struggle between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and his Nuer ex-deputy Riek Machar.

A reporter in the capital, Juba, quoted witnesses as saying more than 200 people, mostly ethnic Nuers, had been shot by security forces.

The UN says it has discovered a mass grave in Bentiu in the oil-rich Unity State, containing about 75 bodies.

"There are reportedly at least two other mass graves in Juba," UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Geneva-based human rights office told the BBC the ethnicity of those killed in Bentiu was unclear - but there are reports they are ethnic Dinkas.

Ravina Shamdasani said the other two reported mass graves were in Jebel-Kujur and Newside, near Eden.

She said it was not clear who was responsible for the killings.

Personal rivalry

The fighting first erupted in Juba last week and has spread throughout South Sudan, with rebels supporting Mr Machar seizing the major towns of Bor and Bentiu, north of the capital.

James Copnall explains the fighting in 60 seconds

Bentiu is the capital of the oil-producing Unity State.

Mr Kiir has accused Mr Machar, whom he sacked in July, of plotting a coup. Mr Machar denies he is trying to seize power, while the government has denied it is behind any ethnic violence.

The fear is that the personal rivalry between the former allies will spark a full-scale conflict between the Nuer and Dinka groups.

Analysis

The growing number of allegations of ethnically motivated killings are deeply concerning. It's important to remember that this crisis is at its heart a political struggle, in a militarised, and, yes, ethnically divided society.

The strength of politicians often comes from their ethnic base, so the power struggle is exacerbating ethnic cleavages.

It is wrong to paint this as an "ethnic war", though - it is far more complicated than this. It is also unclear to what extent the military commanders can control the many armed civilians fighting in different parts of the country.

With all that said, international concern about ethnically driven violence is high. Ban Ki-moon has warned that anyone responsible for human rights violations will be held to account.

It is to be hoped that these are not empty words.

Hannah McNeish, a journalist in Juba, told the BBC that she had interviewed a man called Simon, living at a UN camp, who said he was shot four times but managed to survive a mass killing by hiding under dead bodies.

"He tells of being rounded up with about 250 other men, driven to a police station in one of Juba's busiest suburbs. He describes an ordeal whereby over the course of two days, forces outside the windows fired into this room, killing all but 12 men," she said.

McNeish said this account had been corroborated by two other survivors at the camp.

Another man interviewed at the UN base in Juba reported that Dinka gunmen were shooting people in Nuer districts who did not speak the Dinka language.

UN humanitarian co-ordinator Toby Lanzer, who was in Bor over the weekend, told the BBC he had witnessed "some of the most horrible things that one can imagine".

The claims of atrocities have not been independently verified.

'Face the consequences'

The official death toll stands at 500, but aid agencies say the true figure is likely to be much higher.

There has also been fighting in Upper Nile State but few details have emerged.

Another 81,000 people have been displaced, the UN's humanitarian agency says, with about half seeking shelter at UN bases.

It warned many more people could be affected in more remote areas.

The UN has 7,000 soldiers deployed in South Sudan, but on Monday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to reassign another 5,500 troops from UN missions in other African countries, including Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ban: "The world is watching all sides in South Sudan"

He also asked for hundreds more police, three attack helicopters, three transport helicopters and one military transport plane.

He has said all reports of human rights violations and crimes against humanity will be investigated and those responsible held accountable.

Two Indian peacekeepers were killed last week in a rebel raid on a UN compound.

President Kiir has said he is willing to hold talks with Mr Machar - and that a delegation of East African foreign ministers had offered to mediate - but that his former deputy would have to come to the table without any conditions.

Mr Machar told Reuters news agency that he was open to dialogue if his political allies were released from detention.

Sudan suffered a 22-year civil war that left more than a million people dead before the South became independent in 2011.

News graphic showing the ethnic groups of South Sudan Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Map showing the location of oil fields in South Sudan Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shut down for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
Map showing the geography of South Sudan The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Map showing access to water in South Sudan After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Map showing education levels in South Sudan Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Map showing food insecurity rates in South Sudan Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight - this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

More on This Story

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.