World"He put his leg on my sister's head and...

“He put his leg on my sister’s head and cut her neck with a knife”: the drama in South Sudan 10 years after its creation

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10 years after its creation, South Sudan It is both the youngest country in the world and one of the poorest and most unstable, despite having large oil reserves.

In June 2011, the nation of 11 million people proclaimed its independence from Sudan, following a referendum in which almost 99% of voters chose secession.

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Since then, He has lived through tragedy after tragedy.

Shortly after its independence, a civil war broke out that has left hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of traumatized and displaced people.

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Emmanuel is one of many South Sudanese who have suffered from a conflict that theoretically ended with the signing of a ceasefire in 2018, but in reality continues to claim lives.

In an interview with BBC Mundo, this 37-year-old man recounts the many “inhuman acts” that he has experienced since he himself had to leave his home after receiving threats from an armed group in the state of Western Equatoria, in the southwest of the country.

He says he saw people being slaughtered and “cut into pieces.”

“Pregnant women who had been slaughtered were cut down and then slaughtered their babies who were still in the womb,” he says.

“There was children who were slaughtered in front of their mothers and people being bombed inside their houses. “

“All of this has caused me a lot of trauma,” he adds. “But because I’m a therapist, I’ve been able to break free from that because I’ve read so many books on trauma healing.”

From political dispute to ethnic conflict

After declaring the independence of Khartoum, a group of former rebels, who acted as de facto leaders in the territory, joined the new government’s plans to build a new and more prosperous state.

More than 300 child soldiers, including 87 girls, were released in the war-torn Yambio region of South Sudan under a program to help reintegrate them into society.  (GETTY IMAGES).

South Sudan is an oil-rich nation and the initial concern of the nascent country’s government was keep production.

But for this he had to settle a series of disagreements with Sudan; Upon becoming independent, South Sudan took with it more than 75% of the total oil reserves.

The South Sudanese, however, needed the oil facilities and the port of Khartoum to export the mineral.

In addition to this dispute, there were also armed rebellions, border clashes and fights for livestock control.

The situation deteriorated further after disagreements in the ruling SPLM party that led President Salva Kiir of Dinka ethnicity (the largest group in the country) to remove Vice President Riek Machar, who belongs to the second largest ethnic group, the Nuer. , in July 2013.

Kiir accused his vice president of planning a coup, and what began as a political dispute quickly turned into an ethnic conflict.

relative peace

Emmanuel, who now lives in a United Nations displaced persons camp in the town of Tambura, says there is “relative peace” after the ceasefire.

“In the town things are calm. People can go to the market and there are no more fighting, but there is still fear in the population,” he explains.

BBC.

In fact, people are still unable to return to their homes: many houses were burned and there are still armed groups in the jungle.

The South Sudanese says that at the beginning of December they killed some people who went to a farm and shot another in the hand.

According to the United Nations, in addition to the nearly 2 million South Sudanese who have been displaced within the country due to the conflict, the number of South Sudanese refugees abroad, mainly in Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda, has exceeded 2.2 millions.

Most of the refugees are women and children, and many of them have crossed the border alone.

Jok Madut, professor of anthropology at Syracuse University, in New York, and analyst, expert on South Sudan, explains that the peace agreement that was signed in 2018 stipulated a series of preliminary changes during the interim period that “never were made “.

“The security arrangements have not been properly implemented. But above all, what allowed the violence to continue is that there is some groups that did not sign the peace agreement“, he tells BBC Mundo.

These groups include the National Salvation Front (NAS), which has been fighting the government since 2017, and militants who split from the SPLM-IO party, among others.

“This means that even though the peace agreement was signed between the main parties to the conflict, there is still a fight against the government that generates abuses against the civilian population“, continues the South Sudanese analyst.

“They said they were going to cut us like a pumpkin”

A report published by Amnesty International in early December speaks of the recent wave of violence in the south-west of the country.

According to the organization, only between June and October This year, dozens of civilians were killed and some 80,000 more people were displaced due to fighting between armed groups in Western Equatoria.

Amnesty International interviewed dozens of survivors for the report. A 41-year-old woman told them how she and her older sister were captured in the bush in September while trying to flee from Tambura.

“They ordered us to sit down and said they were going to cut us like a pumpkin.”

The South Sudanese claimed that the armed men tied their hands behind their backs and they put their 18 month old son next door.

Later one of the combatants “put his leg on (my sister’s) head and cut her neck with a knife.”

“Very little to celebrate”

As if war weren’t enough, the humanitarian situation for South Sudanese worsened in 2019 following floods that left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

South Sudanese refugees try to repair their shack destroyed by heavy rains in southern Sudan on September 14, 2021. (GETTY IMAGES).

The floods have continued for the third year in a row. In 2021, the rains lasted more than six months and mainly affected four states in the north and east of the country.

According to the United Nations, some 700,000 people have been displaced due to the torrential rains.

“In a sense, it can be said that 10 years after independencePolitically, our independence may be cause for celebration, “says Professor Jok Madut.

“But if we refer to the well-being in general and the well-being of the citizens, there is very little to celebrate.”

Madut points out that although the displacements now are mainly due to floods, the suffering of the millions of displaced for the conflict continues.

“There is no money”

One of the clauses of the peace agreement calls for the eventual repatriation of all internally displaced persons and refugees.

“Government will have to contribute money for resettlement of people in their homes, but he says there is no money, “adds Madut.

The lack of resources is also visualized when looking at the vaccination rate against covid-19: the youngest country in the world is one of the ones that has vaccinated the fewest people.

A newly released child soldier looks through a rifle during a child soldier liberation ceremony in Yambio, South Sudan, on Feb. 7, 2018 (GETTY IMAGES).

In mid-December, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that South Sudan had received a total of more than half a million doses of anticovid vaccines, for a country with 11 million inhabitants.

But almost half of the doses have not yet been used and by the end of 2021 less than 2% of South Sudanese were vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel, who lost everything in the war, including his farm and his brother, whom he says was “massacred”, only asks that the national government, state authorities and “perhaps the international community” work together to “bring him a lasting peace to the people of Tambura and Western Equatoria. “

According to him, first you have to get the armed groups out of the bush, then disarm the population and encourage dialogue between the different groups.

“More humanitarian assistance is also needed, help locals overcome trauma left behind by the war and repair the schools that were vandalized and destroyed, “he continues.

For his part, Professor Madut suggests that improving the judicial system could be a great step towards finally ending the conflict.

“Nowadays revenge is the only mechanism to get some sense of justice, that’s why the violence continues, “he explains.

“If there is no state that offers justice to the aggrieved people, the people will always take the path of revenge.”

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