JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — A chilling video apparently shot by a United Nations peacekeeper shows a seemingly unending column of men in South Sudan walking among tall green grass in what the cameraman says is the march home from battle.
The video shows that a cyclical campaign of violence that pits one ethnic group against another has flared anew in South Sudan, contributing to a humanitarian crisis that has seen more than 100,000 people flee into the country’s dangerous and unsanitary bush areas.
No authorities can yet say how many people have died in the fighting, which began earlier this month when the Lou Nuer community in Jonglei state mounted an attack against the Murle community.
Based on recent history, the deaths caused by the tribal attacks are likely to number in the dozens if not hundreds. A U.N. report commissioned after similar Lou Nuer-vs.-Murle violence in 2011-2012 found that 612 Murle and 276 Bor Dinka/Lou Nuer died in the attacks.
Doctors Without Borders says it and the international Red Cross have treated 176 patients, including 128 people with gunshot wounds, from the latest fighting. That number, though, only includes Lou Nuer victims. “Injured Murle, presumed to be in the hundreds, have yet to be located,” Human Rights Watch said Friday.
The video of what the cameraman said was a post-battle march was uploaded to YouTube on Thursday. It shows the cameraman conferring with blue-helmeted U.N. troops as a column of men that stretches beyond both horizons walk by. The video also shows what appears to be two uniformed members of South Sudan’s military.
The user name of the YouTube account holder is “Is this what we fought for in South Sudan.”
“So many people. And I cannot count. And I cannot see the starting point, and I cannot see the ending point,” the person holding the camera says. “Many people, many people. I’ve never seen that amount of people in my life. They are moving to home from battlefield.”
A spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in South Sudan did not immediately respond to a phone call or email seeking comment.
One alarming aspect of the tribe-on-tribe violence in Jonglei is that government forces stand accused of helping one side against the other.
“Yet again the government of South Sudan has utterly failed to stop armed Lou Nuer youth from moving into ethnic Murle areas, despite advance warnings that they were mobilizing,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Friday.
“This failure, together with a spate of serious abuses by soldiers in the area, only reinforces the perception that South Sudan’s leaders are taking sides in this ethnic conflict,” Bekele said.
Col. Philip Aguer, spokesman for South Sudan’s military, known as the SPLA, said the military does not have the capacity to stop such tribal clashes, especially in small, remote villages. He said the SPLA can protect civilians if they go to larger towns where troops are stationed.
“It is unfortunate that when these communal clashes happen we do not hear of their mobilization time, their time of attack,” Aguer said, adding later: “It is extremely difficult especially in a rainy season like this even to know the routing of the fighting, where the attack is taking place or who is attacking who. It is unfortunate that the SPLA have no capacity for surveillance.”
The tribe-on-tribe violence in Jonglei is occurring at the same time as South Sudan’s military is fighting an insurgent campaign led by the rebel leader David Yau Yau, a member of the Murle ethnic group. South Sudan alleges that Yau Yau is backed by Sudan.
Human Rights Watch said South Sudan has committed a series of killings against civilians while carrying out its campaign against Yau Yau, abuses that have forced civilians to flee, making them more vulnerable to attacks carried out by the Lou Nuer.
Aguer said that the army has been fighting only insurgents. “We do not fight civilians,” he said. “If there are people who are killed in crossfire then we need to examine what and see happened and who was conducting operations in those areas.”
Doctors Without Borders, meanwhile, said one of its emergency teams is attempting to reach the tens of thousands of people “hiding in unsafe, malaria-infested swamps” who have no access to safe drinking water, food or medical care.
“They are afraid to seek medical care in towns so it is essential for us to intervene where they are so that all those in need can access treatment,” said John Tzanos, head of the MSF team in Pibor County in Jonglei.
Straziuso reported from Nairobi, Kenya.
On the Internet:
Video of marching men: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_fFxBIJWzw