NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Some 34,000 South Sudanese civilians are taking refuge in United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases in the capital Juba and in Bor, the rebel-controlled capital of Jonglei state, the U.N. said late Thursday, as deadly ethnic clashes that began last week plummet the two-year-old nation into chaos.
Since fighting broke out on Dec. 15 in South Sudan , as many as 500 people have been killed, according to local reports received by the U.N., while one UNMISS base in Jonglei state has been attacked. Regional mediators held talks with President Salva Kiir on Thursday in an effort to broker peace.
The U.N. said in its Dec. 19 update that fighting, civil unrest and heightened tension have been reported in 14 locations across the country.
Some 20,000 people have sought refuge in the two main UNMISS bases in Juba, too fearful to return to their homes. Other civilians may have been displaced to other locations around the capital, the U.N. said.
In Bor, clashes between security forces have displaced around 14,000 civilians to the UNMISS base. Some 70 humanitarian staff were evacuated from Bor to Juba on Thursday, with the evacuation of another 75 planned for Friday.
Several hundred people have also sought refuge at the UNMISS base in Bentiu in oil-producing Unity state, the U.N. said.
A U.N. peacekeeping base in the remote town of Akobo in Jonglei state was overrun on Thursday by Luo Nuer assailants targeting 32 Dinka civilians hiding inside. It is unclear how many died.
In Juba and Bor, civilians have also been killed for their ethnicity, according to Human Rights Watch.
The fighting, which erupted around the capital Juba on Sunday night and has quickly spread, pits loyalists of the former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, against Kiir, a member of the dominant Dinka clan.
Machar, whose dismissal in July led to months of tensions, has denied Kiir's accusation that he had led a coup attempt.
The U.N. described the conditions for displaced people in Juba and Bor as “challenging”.
“In U.N. bases, some people have been able to construct basic shelters with available materials, but many have no or limited access to shelter. While some displaced groups have been able to move in and out of the bases during daytime to restock on food and other supplies, many others are concerned with the protection risks associated with leaving the base,” it said.
“Protection of civilians remains a major concern in all areas affected by the current spate of violence.”
As the security situation stabilised in Juba on Wednesday, aid agencies were able to travel around the city to assist the displaced, the U.N. said. They found some areas of the city deserted.
On Thursday in Juba, interagency assessments were carried out in the UNMISS bases in Jebel and Tomping, Juba Teaching Hospital and five neighbourhoods around town.
Juba Teaching Hospital, the main hospital in the city, has admitted 220 patients as a direct result of the violence.
The assessment teams found immediate needs for food, primary healthcare, nutrition screening, water purification and storage, emergency latrines, hygiene promotion and site planning and management.
“Partners have begun responding to the most urgent needs, and responses are ongoing,” the U.N. said.
CONFINED TO BASES
Sporadic fighting has been reported in several areas across Jonglei state, including Gumuruk, Likuangole, Pibor town, Pochalla and Waat, the U.N. said. People are also fleeing from Jonglei to neighbouring Lakes state.
“In the areas of Jonglei where insecurity is ongoing aid agencies are confined to their bases,” it said.
The situation is also tense in several other states, including in Eastern Equatoria, Unity, Warrap and Western Bahr el Ghazal, it said.