Violence in Jonglei, South Sudan’s largest state, has rapidly increased in scope and scale. Fighting between the South Sudanese army, or the SPLA, and a Khartoum-supported rebel group continues, and there is renewed inter-communal violence. Additionally, there are increasing reports of attacks on civilians by the SPLA. The escalating humanitarian crisis for Jonglei’s civilian population demands stronger international action. The challenge for domestic and international support, however, was amplified last week with the major reshuffle in government structure and personnel South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.
Inter-ethnic clashes over cattle, land, and previous transgressions have grown since early July. A recent fight left over 100 people wounded when Lou Nuer fighters exacted their revenge on the Murle for a February attack that left over 100 Lou Nuer dead. Many of the wounded were child soldiers that have fallen into this historical cycle of conflict. This story is repeating itself across the state, with government and U.N. forces unable to protect civilians.
Violence between rebels and the SPLA is growing, particularly in and around Pibor county. The conflict with the rebel forces led by David Yau-Yau has intensified, adding to mass displacement in the state estimated to have reached 100,000 people. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, reports that “all six main population centres in Pibor County are abandoned, with around 40,000 inhabitants displaced.” These internally displaced persons, or IDPs, face massive survival challenges as the height of the wet season approaches, a particularly dangerous time to be living in the bush.
Life for IDPs in Jonglei worsens daily. Humanitarian access is limited, keeping NGOs with necessary training and resources from reaching the people that would benefit the most from their help. Additionally, reports released by the U.S. government and international NGOs(PDF) describe the spike in human rights abuses, including unlawful detention, looting and killing, being committed by the SPLA and other South Sudanese security forces. Enough Project Co-Founder John Prendergast co-authored an open letter to President Kiir , along with three South Sudan experts under the name “Friends of South Sudan” describing the situation in Jonglei and all of South Sudan:
“These terrible crimes occur because government forces believe they have the power to act with impunity…All senior army officials should be put on notice that attacks on civilians are completely unacceptable and will be severely punished.”
The instability in Jonglei is rapidly spinning out of control. The impact flows across the borders of South Sudan, with approximately 23,000 refugees now fleeing Jonglei into the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Although the U.S government is addressing the deteriorating crisis, the government of South Sudan, NGOs and other international actors must coordinate more urgent and robust efforts to ease ethnic tensions, end rebel violence and secure humanitarian relief for the suffering residents of Jonglei.
Photo: UNMISS Peacekeepers: Relief of Sentries at WFP Warehouse, Jonglei State (UN)