Africa

South Sudan: MSF workers 'flee into bush'

  • 31 January 2014
  • From the section Africa
A rebel fighter with a weapon walks to a river to wash as he returns from a frontline in a rebel-controlled territory in Jonglei State, South Sudan (January 30, 2014)
Violence has continued in South Sudan despite a ceasefire agreement

The medical charity MSF says 240 of its staff have been forced to flee into the bush in South Sudan because of continuing insecurity.

MSF said the workers were among thousands of people trying to escape fighting in Unity State between government forces and rebels.

Violence broke out in the world's newest state on 15 December, starting as fighting between rival army factions

It has now killed thousands of people and displaced around 700,000.

A fragile ceasefire was agreed last week ahead of a second round of peace talks due to start on 7 February.

Rebel leader Riek Machar denies plotting a coup, but says he wants President Salva Kiir to resign.

The former vice-president told Reuters on Friday that government attempts to charge him with treason were an effort to derail the ceasefire.

Rebel leader Riek Machar spoke to Reuters from his hideout in Jonglei State

MSF head of mission Raphael Gorgeu said local staff had continued running the hospital in the town of Leer for as long as they could, "despite incredibly challenging circumstances".

"However in the past three days, the situation became too unstable and the only way to provide medical care was to take patients out of the hospital and to flee with the population into the bush."

The agency said the hospital, where it has worked for 25 years, was now empty of patients and staff.

Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
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.
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 shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
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.
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.
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.
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%).

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