Juba — At least 30 South Sudanese civilians and two Indian peacekeepers lost their lives when the United Nations base in Akobo, in the far east of Jonglei state, was attacked on Thursday, according to South Sudan's foreign minister. One Indian peacekeeper was also injured.
Speaking during a memorial ceremony for the Indian soldiers in the capital Juba, South Sudan's foreign affairs minister, Benjamin Marial deplored the "cowardice" of those who carried out the attack.
The South Sudan government was sadden by the death of the two peacekeepers "who had paid [with] their lives to protect our citizens", Marial said during eulogies at the base of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Juba.
Civilians streaming into the UNMISS compound in Bor, capital of Jonglei state, South Sudan, seeking refuge from the violence. (Photo: UNMISS/Hailemichael Gebrekrstos)
Since fighting between Dinka and Nuer members of the Presidential Guard began on 15 December around around 500 people have been killed. An estimated 34,000 people have taken refuge at UN compounds around the world's youngest country.
UNMISS said that 43 Indian peacekeepers, six UN police advisers and two civilian UN members of staff were at the base when Dinka civilians sought shelter there from the instability that has spread from the capital Juba to Jonglei and Unity state.
The attackers, the Indian ambassador to the UN said, were angry Nuer who were seeking retribution against Dinka civilians in response to reports from Juba that Nuer civilians had been targeted by Dinka soldiers in the first days on the fighting.
This has been denied by the government but Human Rights Watch has reported that civilians were attacked on the basis of their ethnicity.
Only seven of the estimated 37 Dinka civilians who sought shelter at the base survived the attack. The survivors were airlifted to Malakal, the capital of neighbouring Upper Nile state on Friday.
One survivor, who reached Juba on Saturday, told Sudan Tribune that the attack was so horrific that he could not bring himself to describe what happened.
The chief of staff of South Sudan's army, James Hoth Mai, said on Saturday that that youth that attacked the UN base in Akobo are moving, adding that the government is not in control of the area.
President Salva Kiir claimed on Monday that the army infighting that triggered the violence was an attempted coup and arrested many senior officials. His former deputy, Riek Machar, and the other accused members of the ruling SPLM, denied any coup attempt.
Since then Machar has been on the run and has called on Kiir to step down. However the former vice president has said he is willing to enter negotiations on the condition that all the senior officials are released and allowed to travel to a safe location, such as Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.