BOR, South Sudan: South Sudan’s army battled rebel forces on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) in the capital of a key oil-producing state and prepared to storm another, as the United Nations (UN) moved to double its peacekeeping force to stave off civil war.
Thousands are believed to have been killed in more than a week of violence pitting troops loyal to President Salva Kiir against those backing his rival Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked in July.
Amid reports of bodies piled in mass graves, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the two rivals to negotiate an end to the spiraling violence in the world’s youngest nation, which won independence from Sudan to much fanfare just two years ago
The unrest has taken on an ethnic dimension, pitting Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer.
Ban called the ethnic attacks a “grave violation of human rights” and reiterated that those responsible would be “held accountable.”
“South Sudan is under threat—but South Sudan is not alone,” Ban said in a Christmas Day radio and video message to the people of the violence-wracked nation.
The UN Security Council voted Tuesday to send nearly 6,000 extra soldiers and police to South Sudan, nearly doubling the UNMISS force to 12,500 troops and 1,323 civilian police.
Government forces have recaptured the strategic central town of Bor from forces loyal to Machar, but battles raged elsewhere including in Malakal, capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state.
An Agence France-Presse correspondent who visited Bor on Wednesday said bodies littered the streets and stores were looted, with occasional gunshots still ringing out even as civilians poured back into the town.
Government forces have said they are preparing to take back Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, the most important oil-producing region.
Fighting has spread to half the country’s 10 states, the UN says, with huge numbers fleeing to the countryside and others flooding UN bases seeking shelter.
The UN said aid agencies need $166 million over the next three months to distribute food, manage camps for the displaced and provide health and sanitation.
“There are at least 90,000 people who have been displaced in the past 10 days. This includes 58,000 people who are sheltering in UN peacekeeping bases,” said the UN humanitarian chief in the country, Toby Lanzer.
“It is crucial that aid agencies have the resources they need to save lives in the coming months,” he said in a statement.
Lanzer said on Tuesday the death toll from the fighting was into the thousands, the first clear indication of the scale of the conflict.
UN rights chief Navi Pillay said a mass grave had been found in rebel-held Bentiu and cited reports of at least two more in Juba, the capital.