Ethnic clashes threaten to tear South Sudan apart | Africa | DW | 19.12.2013
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Ethnic clashes threaten to tear South Sudan apart

After days of unrest in South Sudan, the army says rebels loyal to the country's former deputy president have seized control of a key rural town.

It's feared that an alleged coup is increasing ethnic tensions in South Sudan, the world's youngest nation.

Government troops have lost control of Bor, 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital Juba. Bor is the capital of the eastern state of Jonglei, one of the most volatile regions in the country

There are reports of violence spreading elsewhere in South Sudan.

On Thursday fugitive former Vice President Riek Machar called on the army to topple his arch-rival President Salva Kiir, amid fears that the nation is plunging into civil war.

"I have appealed to the SPLM (ruling party) and the SPLA (army) to remove Salva Kiir from the leadership of the country," Machar said in an interview with RFI radio.

Toby Lanzer

Toby Lanzer says thousands have sought refuge at UN facilities in South Sudan

Kiir has said he was ready to "sit down" with Machar to try to resolve the crisis. Machar was sacked by Kiir in July and is now on the run. He has denied any involvement in a coup and is accusing Kiir of using it as an excuse to purge his political rivals.

UN special representative in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, told DW that the violence was particularly bad in the outskirts of Juba. “It was reassuring to see a lot of people in Juba and quiet a few people on the streets and being carried around on motorbike taxis even cars,” he said.

Congested hospitals in Juba

Staff from the International Committe of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been providing asssistance at Juba hospitals, which have been overwhelmed by the increase in the number of patients. ”We are trying to get our surgical teams basically to give extra help to the hospital staff” said ICRC spokeswoman Cynthia Lee. ”They have been working round the clock to treat people so they are exhausted, she said.”

Refugees in South Sudan

Refugees are struggling to find shelter and food

The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) also opened its gates to people seeking refugee and it's not yet clear when they will return to their homes.

“There is a real sense of fear amongst them and that's why they came to stay in the UN,” Lanzer said.

Fear of a civil war

It still remains unclear what triggered the fighting. The UN now puts the death toll at between 400 and 500. It says more exact figures are not yet available.

Many countries, including Germany, have evacuated their nationals out of South Sudan. Speaking from Khartoum, capital of South Sudan's northern neighbor, the Republic of Sudan, Florian Dähne, the resident representative of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, told DW that foreign governments were afraid the violence in South Sudan would escalate.

An child at a hospital in Juba

South Sudan's government said on Thursday some 700 people had been injured

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir accuses former Vice President Riek Machar of being behind an attempted coup. People believed to be Machar's supporters have been arrested over the last few days.

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