21 December 2017

South Sudan: Fighting Pushes More South Sudanese Into Congo

Photo: Isaac Billy
UN Protection of Civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan

Hundreds of South Sudanese refugees entered the Democratic Republic of Congo this week after South Sudanese government forces captured a rebel base near the border.

Amid gunfire late Sunday, South Sudanese troops entered Lasu town, which had been the rebels' second general headquarters. The rebels pulled out the next day.

Mary Awate fled her home to the forests when the clashes began. With her children to take care of, she spent two days hiding in the bush before reaching the Congo border on Tuesday.

"We just heard the sound of the gun, especially these big ones, so everyone just started running in the bush," she said.

The new arrivals fled to the Congolese town of Aba. More than 30,000 people had already gone there since the start of South Sudan's civil war in December 2013.

More than two million people have fled South Sudan during the war. There have been many ceasefires declared, but none have been observed.

In Aba's hospital, Isaac Bida lay with a bullet wound in his back. He said he was shot by South Sudan government troops near Lasu as he tried to flee on a motorbike.

Bida said he is a civilian.

"When I saw the soldiers before from far away," he said. "... They were calling me, please come come, but something came into my mind to be careful of them, and as I tried to turn and go, they shot three bullets. The fourth one hit me. ... Maybe they thought I was a rebel."

Refugees were still entering Aba on Wednesday. Liwa Morris Taban, the chairperson of the South Sudan refugee community in Aba, said some of the new arrivals are in critical condition after fleeing through the forests.

He urged fellow refugees to stay at the refugee site, rather than go back to South Sudan to search for lost relatives.

"It is very, very risky for them to go back to South Sudan," he cautioned. "People are running from there, they are fearing government soldiers. ... It is very hard for me as chairperson of the site to allow people to go back. I know some left their relatives, their kids behind and they have that intention of going to bring their kids, but its a bit risky."

A new round of peace talks between the government and rebels began this week in Ethiopia.

Thirty-five-year-old Charity Awate, who fled the Lasu fighting with her husband and six children on Tuesday, said the fresh fighting has dimmed her hopes of an end to violence.

"At first we heard of the talks and we were happy," she said, "but now we have been chased to Congo, we are not confident in that. "

With no peace in sight, she and others must look toward a new life as refugees in Congo.

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