South Sudan conflict: Fears for isolated children

Young girl at UN compound in Juba, South Sudan
Image caption While some children are in UN compounds, others are thought to be hiding in the bush

Thousands of children are likely to have been separated from their families as a result of the latest violence in South Sudan, an aid agency has warned.

Save the Children says many children are surviving on their own in very remote areas.

Some have witnessed their parents being killed and their homes looted or destroyed.

The fighting broke out two weeks ago in the capital Juba, and has spread to many parts of the country.

At least 1,000 people have died.

The positions of the warring factions in South Sudan seem to be hardening ahead of a regional deadline for talks to begin.

South Sudan only became independent from Sudan in 2011, after decades of conflict.

'Hiding in swamps'

More than 121,000 people fled their homes when fighting started, with the result that many families were split up, Save the Children said.

The charity said while many people had sought refuge in UN compounds or host communities in safer areas, others, including children, were hiding in swampy areas with no shelter where they would be forced to drink stagnant water.

"In about three days alone we have registered 60 children in one site in Juba who have been separated from their families because of the conflict," Save the Children's Helen Mould told the BBC's Newsday programme.

"Until we get access to these areas where the fighting has been at its hardest, in Jonglei, in Upper Nile state… it's difficult to know what the exact circumstances are and it's difficult for us to respond," she said.

What began as a power struggle between rebel leader Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir has taken on overtones of an ethnic conflict. The Dinka, to which Mr Kiir belongs, are pitted against the Nuer, from which Mr Machar hails.

Image caption Fighting broke out between rival army factions two weeks ago after allegations of a coup attempt
Image caption What began as a power struggle has taken on overtones of an ethnic conflict
Image caption More than 120,000 people have been displaced in the crisis

The government has offered a ceasefire, but the army says its forces are still battling rebels over oilfields in the north.

'No prisoner releases'

East African mediators have given both sides until Tuesday to agree an end to hostilities.

But as the deadline looms, positions seem to be hardening, the BBC's James Copnall reports from Juba.

It had seemed as if the government was prepared to release several detained politicians - Mr Machar's main condition for beginning talks, he says.

However, senior government figures now say this will not happen, citing Mr Machar's refusal to accept the cessation of hostilities.

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Media captionThe BBC's James Copnall says aid workers fear a humanitarian crisis

Mr Machar says it is impossible to stop fighting before the talks, as verification mechanisms would need to be agreed on first.

Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports about a march by youths loyal to Mr Machar on the strategic town of Bor.

Claims that most of the fighters had gone home were later denied, and some of the youths are said to have clashed with government forces.

Mr Machar was vice-president until Mr Kiir sacked him in July.

Earlier this month fighting broke out between rival army factions after Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar of trying to unseat him in a coup.

Image caption 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.
Image caption 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
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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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