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Posts tagged ‘Twin Niles of South Sudan’

South Sudan soldiers face trial for deadly hotel rampage

May 30, 2017

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudanese soldiers accused of a horrific attack on foreign aid workers during the country’s civil war are facing trial almost a year later, with the possibility of a death sentence.

Twelve of the 20 soldiers accused of rape, torture, killing and looting during the attack on the Terrain hotel compound were in court Tuesday. The assault came during fresh fighting in the capital, Juba, in July.

An investigation by The Associated Press last year showed that dozens of soldiers broke into the compound and terrorized residents and staff while the nearby United Nations peacekeeping mission did not respond to pleas for help. Five foreigners reported being gang-raped, and one local journalist was shot in the head and killed as others were forced to watch.

The U.N. secretary-general later fired the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission over its response to the attacks on the hotel compound and elsewhere. The trial is a test of South Sudan’s ability to hold its soldiers accountable. It is expected to last several weeks, with the next court date scheduled for June 6.

If convicted of rape, the soldiers could face up to 14 years in prison. If convicted of murder, they could be sentenced to death. It was not immediately clear how the soldiers would plead. The prosecution said it “absolutely” has the necessary evidence to convict the accused, citing testimony from witnesses and victims including an American man who was shot in the leg.

“We expect the same as from any normal trial,” said Michael Woodward, the British former manager of the Terrain and the only witness to testify Tuesday. “We want justice for the victims, compensation for what was looted and we want this to serve as an example for people who commit similar crimes.”

South Sudan’s military marked the start of the trial by announcing it is committed to “human rights, the rule of law and the transparency of the legal system.” The start of the trial comes shortly after a new U.N report that exposed potential war crimes by the army in soldiers’ targeting and killing of dozens of South Sudanese civilians. The international community has repeatedly expressed concern about impunity for widespread abuses in the civil war, which is well into its fourth year and has left tens of thousands dead.

‘I cannot go back’: South Sudan refugee clan begins new life

April 28, 2017

IMVEPI, Uganda (AP) — Eighty-year-old Alfred Wani walks across the wooden bridge over the Kaya River, the border between South Sudan and Uganda, clinging to his Bibles and family photo album, with his wife, three goats and 27 relatives in tow. Missing are a few sons (off fighting) and his cattle (stolen).

Alfred is one of more than 800,000 South Sudanese who have fled to Uganda since July. The civil war in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands and driven out more than 1.5 million people in the past three years, creating the world’s largest refugee crisis.

The Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the biggest in the world, but Alfred is not going there. It’s full. Imvepi is his destination, where the Ugandan government will issue him with a 50-square-meter (60-square-yard) plot of land and hope for a better life.

But that will take a week, two more camps and three more truck and bus rides with his clan and their salvaged belongings. Alfred walks two hours by foot to the first U.N. processing center for South Sudan refugees in the small Ugandan village of Busia. There, Alfred, a blind man named Ringo with two canes and countless others spend the night before being transferred by minibus to the Kuluba transit camp, 45 minutes down the road. It’s set up to accommodate and dispatch more than 1,000 refugees a day.

Michael Lowe, Alfred’s 28-year-old son, directs the women of their family to carry their belongings into the white tent they will share with Ringo and his wife, Charly Kenisha, for the next 48 hours. During that time, a well-oiled routine will take them through the hands of charities like the International Rescue Committee and Medical Teams International, who will do medical exams and vaccinations.

Alfred sits in a prized wooden chair carried from South Sudan while the grandchildren play. He opens his photo album. “These are my sons.” He points at a fading color image showing five of his eight sons. Six are still fighting in South Sudan. “And this is my favorite photo . me and my bicycle.”

Alfred, a farmer, shares a few regrets: “If I was young again, I would raise more cattle, and build a good house in concrete, and also pay for my kids’ school. I didn’t go to school and neither did my children.”

In the morning, all the family’s belongings are repacked and reloaded onto a truck for transport to Imvepi. More than 1,500 people will be transported in buses adorned with the word “Friends” on the side.

Sixty kilometers (36 miles) and two hours later, the convoy arrives at Imvepi, which is growing at a rate of over 2,000 refugees each day. Already a bustling town has emerged at the entrance to the processing camp, with locals offering vegetables, fish, clothing and cellphone credit at highly inflated prices.

In the morning, Alfred wakes up in pain. The night has been difficult, with no sleep and a bout of diarrhea. He spends the morning at the clinic, which makes it too late for his clan to move today. They will spend one more night in tent 7A. The clan includes eight heads of families, some orphans and several widows from the war or disease: A representative sample of South Sudan’s rural society, squeezed into a tent.

As the line of trucks starts to fill up the next morning with goods and 500 people for the final leg of their journey, the clan sits amid their belongings under the broiling sun. More than 50 people in each pickup truck are driven the 15 kilometers (9 miles) to their plots of land on newly cleared dirt roads.

Peeking through the cover of the truck, Alfred can see the white tents that have mushroomed across the land, smell the smoke of their kitchen fires and hear the laughter of children. Soon he will be able to once again sit in his wooden chair, his trademark cowboy hat on his head, and call it home.

The next day, from his chair under an acacia tree, Alfred shouts his commands as his sons set up a tent. The sons cut branches from surrounding trees to build the frame of Alfred’s dwelling. As the women and children settle in, Alfred and his wife, Kassa, reminisce.

“We met at home 70 years ago. No, 60! And this is my only wife,” Alfred says. Alfred and Kassa have to move inside the unfinished tent with the others when a fierce storm moves in. They all cling to each other, 10 people on 5 square meters (54 square feet) of dirt floor.

Alfred whispers: “Are we going to get a solid house and not a tent?” Tens of thousands of the refugees already have built the type of brick homes that Alfred now desires to replace the mud hut in South Sudan he was forced to abandon.

The couple does not hold out hope of returning home to South Sudan. “I saw the killing, I saw burning houses, I saw the dead with their throats slashed,” Alfred says, clutching his cowboy hat tightly. “I cannot go back and see it again.”

South Sudan promises ‘unimpeded’ aid access amid famine

February 21, 2017

WATAMU, Kenya (AP) — South Sudan’s president said Tuesday his government will ensure “unimpeded access” for all aid organizations, a day after famine was declared for more than 100,000 people in the country suffering from years of civil war.

The United Nations and others have long accused the government of blocking or restricting aid delivery in the East African nation. President Salva Kiir’s remarks to the transitional national assembly came after the famine was declared in parts of oil-rich Unity state. More than 100,000 people are affected, according to South Sudan’s government and U.N. agencies. They say another 1 million people are on the brink of starvation.

South Sudan has repeatedly promised to allow full humanitarian access across the country, but with little effect. Some in Kiir’s government have expressed hostility toward the international community, accusing it of meddling in the country’s affairs.

Human Rights Watch researcher Jonathan Pedneault wrote Tuesday that the famine is a man-made result of “conflict, warring parties blocking access for aid workers and large-scale human rights violations.”

Also Tuesday, the European Commission announced an 82 million euro ($87 million) emergency aid package for South Sudan, saying this is the first famine declared in the country since it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

“The humanitarian tragedy in South Sudan is entirely man-made,” EU Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides said in a statement. Crucially what matters is that all parties allow humanitarian organizations to have immediate and full access to do their job and deliver aid.”

Tens of thousands have died in the civil war that began in December 2013 and has continued despite a peace agreement in 2015. More than 1.5 million people have fled the country. South Sudan also is experiencing severe inflation, which has made food unaffordable for many families.

EU warns of possible new sanctions in South Sudan

December 12, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union says it stands ready to impose fresh sanctions against anyone who incites ethnic hatred, obstructs the peace process or stops U.N agencies from doing their work in South Sudan.

EU foreign ministers said in a statement Monday that they are “profoundly disturbed” by intensifying conflict five years after South Sudan gained independence. They called on the transitional government to protect civilians, and for all parties to respect international law and bring an end to human rights violations.

The U.N. recently warned that South Sudan is at risk of genocide and that ethnic cleansing is being carried out in several parts of the country. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million people displaced by the civil war.

Kenya accuses UN of targeting general fired in South Sudan

November 04, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Kenya accused the U. N. secretary-general on Thursday of instigating an investigation of deadly attacks in South Sudan with the “preordained” outcome of blaming the Kenyan commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force, who was fired over events that occurred just three weeks after he assumed the post.

Kenya’s U.N. Ambassador Macharia Kamau told a news conference that Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki was sacked by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as “a scapegoat” for the systemic failures of the U.N. peacekeeping system.

He said the investigation was demanded “by certain current and future members” of the Security Council who wanted to protect their interests during the July attacks in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. He refused to identify them.

The investigation sharply criticized the U.N. peacekeeping force’s response to attacks on a U.N. compound in Juba housing 27,000 displaced people. Over three days in July, at least 73 people were killed, including two Chinese peacekeepers and more than 20 internally displaced people who had sought U.N. protection. The investigators also criticized U.N. peacekeepers for failing to respond to an attack on a private compound just over a kilometer away where U.N. staff, aid workers and local staff were robbed, beaten, raped and killed by armed government soldiers.

Kenya’s Foreign Ministry, expressing “dismay” at Ondieki’s firing and the way the investigation was conducted, announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing its 1,000 troops from the U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan and will not contribute to beefing up the force by 4,000 troops.

“Kenya had warned that any unfair or prejudicial action taken on the basis of this investigation would compel Kenya to re-evaluate completely its engagement in South Sudan,” Kamau said. “The secretary-general, in his lame-duck season, seems to have found the courage that has eluded him throughout his tenure by choosing to ignore Kenya’s plea.”

Ban’s 10 years as U.N. chief ends on Dec. 31 and Antonio Guterres will take over as secretary-general on Jan. 1. South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been riven by ethnic violence since shortly after gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011. Civil war broke out in 2013 when government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battled rebels led by his former vice president Riek Machar, who is a Nuer. Tens of thousands have been killed, more than 2 million displaced, and despite an August 2015 peace agreement, fighting has continued.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric rejected Kamau’s accusations, saying there was “no preordained conclusion” to the investigation led by retired Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert. He said the investigators looked at “leadership, command decisions taken on that day,” and the secretary-general fired Ondieki on the basis of their findings, which “deeply distressed” him.

“The decision to ask for his removal is an initial decision,” Dujarric said. “Other decisions might be taken, but obviously the secretary-general stands by the report that Mr. Cammaert did and the way it was done.”

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said “there is, of course, the system-wide accountability. We all have a degree of responsibility.” As for the firing of Ondieki, he said, “I don’t want to add salt to the wound. I think that conclusions were irrefutable.”

Ladsous spoke to reporters after briefing the Security Council at a closed meeting. A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the session was private, said the United States proposed a press statement welcoming the report and the U.N.’s transparency, but there was no agreement because China was not willing to accept any reference to the report.

In the attacks on the U.N. compound, the report said confusing senior leadership and the lack of leadership on the ground, where the Chinese battalion commander had been appointed as the incident commander, “contributed to incidents of poor performance among the military and police contingents at UN House.”

This included “at least two instances in which the Chinese battalion abandoned some of its defensive positions” and an “inadequate” performance by Nepalese police to stop looting by some displaced people and control the crowd, it said.

Kamau said “the sources used to inform the investigation, according to our information, were people who were … in the direct line of command and related colleagues to the force commander. “These individuals, who had been in position years and months before the force commander arrived, have reason to miscue information in a manner that protects them and apportions blame elsewhere,” he said.

Kamau said “the investigation could not and should not have been just about the force commander.” Instead, the investigation should have centered on response to events, the failure of the peacekeeping system, and the need for collective responsibility and accountability from the U.N. peacekeeping department in New York to the joint operations command at the U.N. mission in Juba, Kamau said.

Associated Press writer Michael Astor contributed to this report from the United Nations.

South Sudan rebel leader says he could return next month

October 21, 2016

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar says he could return to the turbulent country as early as next month, even if he has to enter the way he fled — on foot. He has begun speaking out again after a long silence, during which he trekked 40 days through the bush into neighboring Congo as South Sudan’s capital erupted in renewed fighting. In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press in South Africa, Machar said his country’s peace deal had “collapsed” and a new political process is needed to revive it.

But he did not commit to rejoining the peace deal on the same terms. Under the agreement signed in 2015 that sought to end a bloody two-year civil war, he had been vice president in a fragile national unity government under his rival, President Salva Kiir.

Machar says he has the right to be president, and that he has enough forces to “liberate” the capital, Juba. He called for his supporters to “wage a popular armed resistance against the authoritarian and racist regime” in his first public comments in exile last month. On Thursday he backed away from that call to arms, saying his statement was “resisting the war being forced on us.”

Machar fled South Sudan in July when fighting erupted among security forces, and he last spoke with Kiir on July 15, less than a week after the gunfire began. The government quickly replaced him as vice president. Fighting has continued in several parts of South Sudan since then.

In one of his first interviews in exile, Machar on Thursday warned of coming atrocities by South Sudan’s government, including possible genocide. On Wednesday, Kiir announced that tribalism had become a growing factor in the conflict and that the army supporting him was mostly his fellow Dinka.

“What is that going to do?” asked Machar, an ethnic Nuer. He said he is afraid South Sudan will see more attacks like the one by South Sudanese soldiers in July on the Terrain compound popular with foreigners, where Americans were singled out and aid workers and others were raped, forced to watch a local journalist be shot dead and subjected to mock executions.

If South Sudan’s government can do that to foreigners from powerful countries, Machar asked, what does the world think it will do to its own people? Machar also described how he fled the country in July in a 500-mile (804-kilometer) march through the bush into Congo. There, he said, the United Nations peacekeeping force extracted him, even as South Sudanese helicopter gunships continued to target him beyond their border.

“I went through an ordeal,” Machar said, describing an epic, zig-zagging hike in which he and supporters were reduced to eating wild fruit and snails. Five of his soldiers died, he said, likely from poisoning after eating raw cassava.

Now Machar is in a hit-and-miss pursuit of world leaders for talks on how to revive South Sudan’s peace deal. After a stay in Sudan, where he failed to meet President Omar Bashir, he now hopes to meet South African President Jacob Zuma.

During his time in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, Machar said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni requested a meeting to discuss a political process. Museveni asked if Machar would participate in a dialogue. “I said I would,” the rebel leader said.

South Sudan’s government has given contradictory statements over whether it would allow Machar back or negotiate with him. On Thursday, government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said he would not be allowed in South Sudan “as a political leader,” saying he has lost support among some in the opposition.

Analysts say some diplomats have tried to get Machar to accept exile, but he rejected the idea — “Why would I?” — saying he had a responsibility to return home. And Machar said he would support a U.N.-imposed arms embargo on South Sudan, saying that “it is the government that is buying arms.” He would not say whether his forces are getting arms from outside.

Lynch reported from Juba, South Sudan.

South Sudan rebel chief urges armed resistance to Juba govt

September 24, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A top South Sudanese opposition leader called Saturday for armed resistance to the government in Juba — a stance that suggests the troubled Central African nation could face a renewed civil war in the near future.

Leader Riek Machar and top officials of the opposition SPLM-IO party issued a statement saying their forces would reorganize to “wage a popular armed resistance against the authoritarian and racist regime of President Salva Kiir.” It’s the first political statement by Machar since he fled South Sudan in August.

The statement, obtained by The Associated Press, came after a meeting Saturday of Machar and his supporters in Khartoum, Sudan. His call for armed resistance adds to South Sudan’s spiraling problems. South Sudan gained independence in 2011 but fell into a civil war in 2013 in which at least 50,000 civilians died and more than 2 million were displaced. A peace deal was forced on both Kiir and Machar last August, but fighting in the capital, Juba, in July put that deal in doubt.

“We have been driven back to the bush,” James Gadet, a spokesman for Machar, told the AP on Saturday in a call from Nairobi, Kenya. Gadet called for the removal of Taban Deng Gai, who was controversially named to replace Machar as the country’s First Vice President. He says the South Sudan government must stop attacking civilians and a regional protection force must be deployed in the country or there will be “an escalation of the civil war,” which he says began again on July 8.

“(We) call on the international community to declare the regime in Juba a rogue government,” the document says, adding that international agencies monitoring the peace deal should “suspend their activities” until the agreement is “resuscitated.”

Some critics blame American foreign policy in South Sudan, saying the U.S. has given Kiir a “blank check” to pursue a militant policy. “It’s not at all surprising to see Machar call for continued armed struggle, in light of the U.S. policy to back Taban Deng as First Vice President and the clear absence of a viable political process,” Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told the AP.

Machar has demanded that the government accept the U.N. Security Council’s decision to send an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to increase the size of the existing U.N. force of 12,000 in South Sudan. The Kiir government has resisted the U.N. decision, saying it violates South Sudan’s sovereignty. State Department officials say if South Sudan doesn’t accept the additional peacekeepers, the U.S. would support an arms embargo on the country.

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