Voice of America (Washington, DC)

15 January 2014

South Sudanese Seeking Safety As Fighting Rages

Photo: Andrew Green/IRIN
Internally displaced people at the Episcopal Cathedral in Juba.

A month after a political power struggle erupted into ethnic violence, South Sudanese continue to flee the fighting that has divided the country.

As dawn breaks, hundreds of new arrivals land in the tiny village of Mingkamen on the banks of the White Nile River.

They are among more than 400,000 South Sudanese who have been displaced by fighting in the country.

In this case, they are running from the rebel-held town of Bor, the scene of fierce battles between the divided military and allied militias.

These boats have just arrived from Jonglei state around the area of Bor. People spent eight hours traveling in the dead of night just to escape the fighting in the area.

Now they're coming here with almost everything they own, including cattle in some cases.

If they have money, they might move on to transition to other places, or they'll stay here until it's safe enough to go home."

Among the new arrivals is the Reverend Daniel Garang - a priest with an assault rifle.

He has just helped guide about 100 people to safety after spending three weeks in hiding, narrowly escaping rebel attacks.

He says he has never fired a shot, and his only prayer is for peace.

"Well for me as a priest, to be peaceful is better than to be more violent. So I wish if there is a cease-fire to stop killing the civilians and the innocent people as I came with them now. You can see me as military because I'm military minded, but I'm a civilian," said Garang.

More than 84,000 people have fled across the river from Bor. The cattle just started arriving this week.

A major indication of wealth in South Sudan, the cows could not be left behind.

Those who can afford to have brought them over by the boatful, another sign that people are not expecting to go home any time soon.

Elijah Macnom, a local official from Duk county near Bor, says the people who have been left behind are suffering.

"People will be living in fear, like now, many people are hiding in the bushes, and when they went to the bushes, there's no food there in the bush. These are the challenges that I have witnessed there," said Macnom.

Almost all who have settled here in Mingkamen are Dinka, the tribe of President Salva Kiir.

They are victims of ethnic tensions that have been reignited by the president's fallout with his top rival Riek Machar, a Nuer.

Elizabeth Yar Garang sleeps under this tree with her mother. In the recent violence, she sees echoes of the massacre of Dinka in 1991, that many blamed on Machar when he led another rebel group.

"Why does this man Machar kill people? Old, young, women and children, and now he wants to be a leader. He has done this twice and we cannot forget," she said.

While Dinka have been displaced here, Nuer have been targeted with violence and displaced in other parts of the country including tens of thousands in the capital.

As cease-fire talks drag on, those uprooted by the conflict remain a long way from home.

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