19 May 2015
Children have been raped, abducted and killed amid escalating conflict in South Sudan as warring groups try to make ground ahead of the rainy season, UNICEF said Tuesday.
The UN children’s agency says survivors have been forced to flee armed groups in Unity State and seek shelter in camps or hide in swamp land.
The violence is reportedly ongoing and comes despite discussions with all armed groups to respect the rights of civilians, as Daniel Johnson reports from Geneva.
Attacks in the last two weeks have left dozens of children killed, at least 12 raped and others abducted or recruited to fight in Unity State, according to eyewitness accounts received by UNICEF.
The agency has described a total breakdown in law and order in the northern state as armed groups try to make “opportunistic” advances before the rains halt their progress.
UNICEF officer Jonathan Veitch told how one young mother described being attacked by armed boys:
“She says that when the attackers came they came from Mayom, they took the belongings that we were carrying and threw me in the fire; when they saw me with my twins, they tried to take them away from me. I said that they would have to kill me first. They were just boys, 16 or 17 years old. We went to the swamps and stayed there until it was night. When we left to come here we saw many bodies on the road. It was a mix of girls, boys and men. They shot them all.”
The woman is now in a camp guarded by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) along with 4,000 others.
But many more remain in hiding in swamps, according to UNICEF, which says it is “unclear” who is in control of the armed groups that are responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law.
Survivors told the agency that soldiers are killing their children to prevent revenge attacks in future.
The situation in the UN base – known as a Protection of Civilian camp, or PoC – is also complicated by the need to keep warring factions apart.
And those in hiding urgently need help, the UNICEF officer said, but the agency has no access to its facilities in Bentiu and Malakal:
“Because of the fighting that’s been going on we haven’t been able to fly in; we’re trying to fly in every day and we hope we can gain access to those areas soon. We have staff on the ground at least in the PoCs where there’s a large numbers of IDPs, so if they get to the PoC the children can be protected, but outside the camps it’s very difficult, the access has been zero over the last couple of weeks since the violence really escalated.”
An estimated 13,000 children have been forcibly recruited by warring sides in the conflict which erupted 20 months ago, UNICEF says.
The majority are with opposition forces but significant numbers are also on the government side, according to the UN agency.
Daniel Johnson, United Nations