I Spent 4 Days In Jail In South Sudan. I Won’t Stop Reporting On The Crisis There

Link to web article here.

Internally displaced people gather by a water collection point in a United Nations site outside South Sudan’s capital city Juba in January. South Sudan’s civil war has killed tens of thousands and driven out some 1.8 million people.

There is a certain peace that comes with being surrounded by a bunch of men with big guns.

As much as you want to run or fight or scream, there’s not much you can do — except whatever they say.

On a Friday afternoon in April, I was sitting in a restaurant in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, trying to convince two government officials to issue me press credentials so I could report there. I had tried and failed to do this over the phone from my home base in Nairobi, and so my bosses and I made the decision that an in-person appeal would be best.

I flew to Juba, and this was the moment of truth. The two government officials and I made small talk for a while, and then I sheepishly said, “So…”

One of them grinned.

“We’ll give you the credential. You can come pick it up on Monday,” he said.

NPR’s Eyder Peralta

We were mid-celebration, in the middle of our beers, when half-a-dozen men with guns showed up. They were in plain clothes, carrying assault rifles.

“I need you to come with me quietly,” one of the men said.

“I’m not coming with you; I don’t even know who you are,” I protested.

“National security,” he said, as the guys with guns stepped closer.

I looked at the government officials still sitting at my table and they looked as shocked as I was. I knew then that I was going with these guys wherever they wanted to take me.

So we walked down a dark hallway, out a back door, into the hot afternoon and an alley crawling with more men with weapons. They were all young, some of them in military uniforms. They looked like teenagers hanging in the alley behind a movie theater. But as they saw us coming out, they all clutched their old AK-47s and moved toward me.

When I prepare for assignments like these, I think through the risks. In this case, the South Sudanese media authority was not pleased with my previous coverage of the dire refugee situation in neighboring Uganda, so they did not want to grant me a press pass before coming to their country. But sometimes as a journalist, you have to insist and show up anyway. You have to try. You have to tell an unsympathetic government official, “Look, I’m here in search of an explanation for one of the worst conflicts in the world and I want you to let me tell these stories.”

When I ran through that scenario, I thought the worst case would be that the official would laugh. He would tell me, “You’re not welcome in South Sudan” — and I’d be escorted to the airport to catch the next plane out.

Just a few minutes earlier, in the restaurant, everything seemed to be turning out much better than I’d expected.

But now, the young men with guns forced me onto the back of a pickup truck. I was on my back, caged in by two benches above me. The bed was soaked in gasoline. I could smell it. I could feel it soaking through my shirt. I could feel the vibration of the engine in my body and I could see the tops of buildings zoom past.

Every once in a while, the guys with weapons, who were sitting on the benches above me, took a peek at me. I tried to keep track of the turns we were making and tried to look for landmarks. But it felt like we were driving in circles. We accelerated. I felt the bed of the truck turn hot, and suddenly, the top of buildings disappeared.

I tried to keep my mind from going to dark places. But it did anyway. Maybe these guys were driving me to some field somewhere, where I’d be forced to kneel and I’d feel the muzzle of one those weapons on the back of my head.

A burgeoning humanitarian crisis

In July 2011, South Sudan became the darling of the international community. With a referendum, it ended the longest-running war on the African continent and the 10 southern states of Sudan formed their own independent country.

On the streets of Juba, there was elation. The two biggest tribes split leadership: Salva Kiir, a Dinka, won the presidency and Riek Machar, a Nuer, was his vice president.

The hope was that the South Sudanese, who had for so long suffered under the oppressive regime of Khartoum, could finally build their own country — in peace.

But that was not to be. In 2013, Kiir accused Machar of organizing a coup. He fired him, and a civil war erupted.

In the summer of 2015, the international community helped broker a deal that called for a ceasefire and for Machar to come back to Juba and resume his vice presidency.

By the spring of 2016, Machar had returned, but by summer, a fresh war broke out. Machar was injured and close to death as he was carried across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eventually, with the help of the United Nations, he went into exile in South Africa, where he still lives.

Families wait for a food aid delivery at Uganda’s Bidi Bidi refugee camp in February. Bidi Bidi is home to more than 270,000 people who’ve fled South Sudan’s civil war and is the biggest refugee camp in the world.

Since then, the conflict has spread, sparking famine and a mass exodus. More than 50,000 have been killed since 2013. This year, precipitated by war, South Sudan surpassed Syria to become the fastest growing humanitarian crisis in the world. There are now some 1.8 million South Sudanese refugees. Salva Kiir remains in power.

‘You’re an Arab’

After the truck stopped, the men escorted me into a two-story building. The power was out so they pointed at me with flashlights, accusing me of being a spy.

“You’re an Arab,” one of them told me.

The South Sudanese won their independence after a bloody fight with the Arab north. I knew the implication, and it scared me.

I told them I was Latino, born in Nicaragua, raised in the U.S.

“You’re an Arab and you don’t even know it,” the man responded.

He took me out of the office and up some stairs, where I saw some men gathered behind iron bars. It was the first time I realized I was in a prison.

The place was hot and the air felt completely still. I could see only what the officer pointed at with his flashlight — fragments of tile floor, dirty walls, a wooden door. I could smell sweat mixing with the gasoline on my shirt and I could hear the clatter of the prisoners as they clamored to get a look at me. The officer barked at them to get back in their cells and they scattered in seconds.

My heart was racing. Before I knew it, the officer was pushing me into a cell toward the back of the prison.

“There’s some water,” he said, closing the door.

And then everything went black, as if my eyes had suddenly closed. I felt my way to the ground and touched the concrete with my palms. It was warm. Somehow the sun had worked its way through steel and concrete and onto this floor. I ran my hands across the water bottles but they felt gritty, like they had been dragged through dirt.

In the distance, I could hear tracked vehicles, probably tanks, moving across the terrain and every once in a while, a helicopter zooming past. Just outside my cell, I could hear the prisoners talking and playing dominoes.

If there is one thing darkness does, it lights up your mind. I thought of Miami, where I was raised. I thought of my wife and my little girls. I thought about all of the brutality that this government had inflicted on civilians.

Three days, I thought. That’s how long I’ve heard humans can survive without water and there’s no way they’d let me die in here.

‘I think we made a mistake’

One of the defining characteristics of the South Sudanese conflict is its brutality. A few months ago, I flew to Uganda and drove up to the border with South Sudan. Thousands of people crossed over each day, fleeing the violence.

Each one brought harrowing stories: They saw women being gang-raped. They described government soldiers going door to door and killing civilians because of their tribe. One woman told me that as she fled her village, she saw the bodies of her neighbors thrown near a ditch.

The violence is systematic and widespread. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and a monitor set up by East African states have all documented government atrocities.

A report by the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan documented the torching of an entire village. Satellite images had tipped off investigators to the events taking place, and when they finally made into Yei, just southwest of Juba, they found a breakdown of humanity.

In one case, they found that government soldiers had disrupted a funeral. According to residents, the soldiers claimed the deceased was a rebel. They assaulted mourners and when a man and woman suggested the man was just old and died of natural causes, soldiers took them outside. The woman was raped before both of them were shot dead.

Not far away, investigators found that pro-government militias had tied up six civilians, threw them inside a hut and set it on fire.

South Sudanese people in Unity State wait to receive medical treatment at a village clinic on Feb. 17.

The South Sudanese government has refuted reporting from refugee camps and these official investigations, saying the refugees fleeing the conflict are lying and the president has ordered soldiers who perpetrate atrocities to be punished. But a panel of experts commissioned by the United Nations Security Council found that the government’s inability or unwillingness to prevent or punish abuses is “a key driver of the war.”

The panel of experts also found that as the conflict drags on, it has taken an increasingly tribal dimension. Last December, the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan warned that the country was in a process of “ethnic cleansing … using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages.”

At a refugee camp in Uganda, a South Sudanese Nuer man named John told me that in his village, government soldiers walked door to door. If you didn’t speak Dinka, the language of the ruling tribe, you were killed.

“It was the national soldiers, the ones who started this,” he said. “Slaughtering people, shooting people, tying people.”

He told me he remembered independence day in 2011 vividly. People, he said, walked for hours to get to Juba to celebrate the birth of a new nation.

But underneath that mango tree, in the middle of that refugee camp, he was doubting all that joy. He was questioning whether the people of South Sudan were better off now than they had been under brutal Sudanese rule.

“I think we made a mistake,” he said.

A shared dinner, a sense of familiarity

At some point, the prisoners outside my cell went completely quiet, but the helicopters and tracked vehicles kept going all night. No one came to check on me. I felt completely alone trying to find comfort on a bare concrete floor and trying to quiet my mind.

At some point, I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I saw a sliver of light sneaking in through a tiny hole near the ceiling. A couple of prisoners came by to peer through a tiny window in the door. They asked if I was OK, and one of them came back a few minutes later.

Soldiers cheer at a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, attended by President Salva Kiir, in Juba on May 18.

“Don’t tell anyone we spoke to you,” he said.

It was hours after I saw that sliver of light that a soldier opened the door to my cell. Honestly, I was scared. Who else was the government keeping in this place? What would they do to me?

I walked out cautiously, but into brightness. The prison was all concrete. There were prisoners sleeping along the hallways. Dozens of plastic bottles filled with dirty water were neatly stacked in every corner.

Just outside my cell, an old man was lying on a frail mat. He stood up with a bowl in his hand. He looked sad, skinny; but offered me some posha, corn flour that has been boiled into a kind of dough.

The last 15 hours had been miserable and isolating, but all of sudden, I felt like I was stepping into humanity. The prisoners stopped by, introducing themselves one by one. They shared tips — you’re free to use the shower shoes outside the toilet; don’t talk to the man three doors down in solitary. They offered to wash my gasoline-soaked shirt. At one point, the guards gave me back some of my money and told me I could order anything I wanted from the market.

I ordered bread, Cokes, shawarmas — enough for everyone. It was delivered within hours by one of the prison officials. The other prisoners and I shared dinner on the floor. Some of them told me they had been held for two years, others for three. They said that they had never been charged and that they had never appeared before a judge.

George Livio was one of them — a South Sudanese journalist for a United Nations-funded news outlet who reported on corruption. He’d been held since August 2014. Every morning, he woke up thinking this was the day he would finally be released. But by now, he had missed watching his three young children grow up.

Justine Wanawila was another prisoner — a former Catholic priest. He said authorities accused him of feeding rebels. They threw him on a plane and brought him to Juba. On a couple of mornings while I was there, he led the prisoners in praying the rosary.

I listened from my cell and told him it reminded me of my grandmother. I thanked him for the familiarity.

“You came to South Sudan to report on what the government is doing to innocent people,” he told me. “You can still do that from here.”

‘We all want peace’

When NPR informed the U.S. embassy of my detention in Juba, the embassy sent consular officers to come check on me daily. It was a relief to be walked out of the prison and into another building and to know that my family, my country, my place of work knew where I was.

But every time I made that walk, a South Sudanese officer would pull me into his office after the U.S. officials had left. He was a lean, angular guy, and he sat on his chair thumbing through a Bill Nye book. Sometimes he would just stare at me for minutes at a time. I wouldn’t break eye contact because I wanted to show him that I had nothing to hide.

He asked questions — “Is it fair that your country is slaughtering civilians? Is it fair that they keep prisoners in secret prisons?” — but every time I tried to talk, he’d interrupt with warnings and boasts about how South Sudan could kill me and my family if it wanted us dead.

I remember when he said that, another officer in military fatigues was in his office. He smiled. It was gentle, but also clear that he found this whole scene a little entertaining.

“Eyder,” he said. “Have you ever been a soldier?”

I chuckled.

“Never.”

He wanted to know what life was like in New York City, how kids went to school. He wanted to know what life would be like if you didn’t have to be on the run. Most South Sudanese have had to flee multiple times in their lives. Some of the refugees I spoke with in Uganda could remember hiding in the bush with their parents when they were attacked by Sudanese troops. Now they had fled with their own kids.

Before we could talk, the first officer sent me off. The next day, he called me back to his office and he shouted that the United States was undermining the independence of South Sudan. He was agitated, belligerent.

I lowered my voice and I told him that he had to listen to me.

A person, I told him, is not a country, and also, he didn’t know me. I told him I was a child of war, born during the civil war in Nicaragua. Like so many of his people, my family fled. We found peace and a home in the United States.

It’s not a perfect country, I told him, but it was instrumental in supporting South Sudanese independence — and it was also, right now, paying for more than half the food that is being dropped out of airplanes in famine-hit areas.

His demeanor changed. His voice became softer.

“Eyder,” he said. “When you go back to your country, I want you to tell your people that we all want peace.”

He pointed out the window. He said in that direction was the first paved road most South Sudanese had ever seen.

“We’re trying to build a country,” he said.

This war, this killing, he said, is necessary to emerge a stronger country.

At that moment, I had no doubt he believed it. I nodded. But I also suspected that to the millions of South Sudanese who have been forced from their homes and to those who have lost children, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, those words would sound hollow.

I was released from jail without charges on May 1, four days after I was picked up. George Livio, the United Nations journalist, was released without charges on May 26, after two years and nine months.

A government official drove me to the airport for my deportation to Kenya.

“You are welcome in South Sudan,” he said. “This was all a misunderstanding.”

South Sudan is the biggest tragedy unfolding on the continent today. It’s not a story you just let go. I told him that maybe someday, I would test that invitation.

Please follow and like us:

Sudanese scientist battles climate change in Africa

Link to web article and video(s) here.

Balgis Osman-Elasha is renowned for studying climate change effects in the Horn of Africa and seeking solutions.

Sudanese climate researcher Balgis Osman-Elasha delivers a speech after receiving the UNEP Champion of the Earth award in 2008 [How Hwee Young/EPA]

Khartoum, Sudan – She’s seen it before. The images of dry cracked-lands, dead trees, animal corpses, hungry children, and lines of people waiting for food assistance are not new to her.

The current drought and resulting food crisis affecting millions across the Horn of Africa are painful reminders of the importance of her work.

But that’s not all that bothers her. Across the Atlantic, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and proposed polices to reverse the United States’ contribution to the fight against climate change dishearten her. They add insult to injury.

“This is the problem with climate change: it’s caused by the large emissions of industrialised countries, so they are more responsible for the climate change phenomenon,” said Balgis Osman-Elasha, a climate change expert with the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivore.

“We are being impacted by something we have not contributed to,” she said.

A recognised scientist on global warming from Sudan, Omsan-Elasha helps promote climate change adaptation efforts in Africa, which more than any other continent has bore its brunt.

This year its eastern region is witnessing a third year of consecutive drought that scientists link to climate change. The UN has issued a call to action for the Horn of Africa seeking to raise funds to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis that includes food shortages, human displacement, and refugees.

Osman-Elasha’s work has received global attention. A lead author of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, she was among a select few to represent the group in 2007 in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, next to Al Gore.

The following year, she was awarded the UN’s Champions of the Earth Prize. The US State Department invited her to the United States in 2008 to take part in a science diplomacy programme, where she gave lectures on climate change at several American universities.

Her achievements were the result of years of hard work and persistence. Like women studying the sciences everywhere, she was among a small group at her university.

“There were a few female students in the faculty of agriculture, even fewer in the forestry department,” she said of her days at the University of Khartoum in the early 1980s.

Marveled by nature and trees as a child, she spent weeks as a university student camping and studying the forests of Sudan. Her research took her all over the country from one village to another, where she helped spread awareness of the importance of forests, preserving and planting trees, and conserving energy.

After years of working on forests, she joined a local government agency that provided the UN with reports on the effects of climate change in Sudan. She helped identify the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, such as deforestation and land degradation, and recorded the signs such as increasing drought and floods.

“Sometimes there are droughts that come in the middle of the rainy season that have an impact on agriculture,” she explained.

“The rain now comes later, it’s not the usual pattern. It can now come all suddenly and in one day you can have the whole quota of the season, so there’s a shift in the timing, a change in the pattern,” Osman-Elasha told Al Jazeera.

Balgis Osman-Elasha has raised awareness about worsening climate change in the Horn of Africa [How Hwee Young/EPA]

Drought and shifting rain patterns have impacted the lives of farmers and nomads, reducing fertile farms and grasslands and sometimes causing conflicts. One place that attests to this is Darfur, which former UN chief Ban Ki-moon described as the first modern conflict caused, in part, by climate change.

“There are many factors that escalated the conflict, but the triggering factor is climate change, the changing weather conditions,” Osman-Elasha said.

The same signs exist across the region of the greater Horn of Africa, where droughts have become more frequent, associated with famine, food insecurity, displacement and migration in places such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. That’s why she thinks long-term solutions are needed.

“The problem with the Horn of Africa is that previous solutions have not targeted the real causes of the problem: trying to create an environment for sustainable development. It’s always relief and short-term solutions,” she added.

Today, Osman-Elasha helps African countries adapt to climate change by initiating “climate proof development”. She gives advice on how to plan development projects, such as hydroelectric dams and roads while taking into account climate variables such as drought and flooding.

While she admits there are ways to go, she believes many African countries are on the right track. The global dimension of climate change and the efforts to combat it also concern her.

According to the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, greenhouse gas emissions caused by the energy sector in industrialised nations are the major “culprit” behind global warming with China, the United States, and the European Union being the “top three greenhouse gas emitters”.

Osman-Elasha has participated in dozens of conferences to discuss global efforts to combat climate change, including recent UN conferences in Lima, Paris, and Marrakesh.

Having stayed up late in the night following efforts to convince all parties, she recalled the sense of victory that scientists and activists felt in Paris in late 2015 when governments signed The Paris Agreement.

So the Trump administration’s views and actions on climate change “disappointed” her, but were not a surprise.

“The decision in the US is heavily influenced by industrial companies, especially in the energy sector,” she said with a sigh. “It is in their interests to continue in their dirty work polluting the environment and making profits.”

Nevertheless, the mother of three who completed her masters and doctorate after giving birth to her children, Osman-Elasha’s nearly two decades of work continues to attract admiration and inspire a new generation of women in Sudan and elsewhere.

“When girls and young women see successful scientists like Dr Osman-Elasha, there is no greater illustration of how science is a career that belongs to women as much as it does to men,” said Naysan Sahba, UN environment spokesperson.

One person inspired by Osman-Elasha’s work is Ne’mat Allah Shawki, 25, a national coordinator with the Arab Youth Climate Change Movement in Khartoum.

“She has become my role model,” said Shawki, who also studied forestry at the University of Khartoum.

“Dr Balgis’ work has influenced me greatly by encouraging me to hold on this track and keep being an environmental activist,” she said.

Despite the many challenges of climate change, Omsan-Elasha remains optimistic that Trump’s stance will not prevail.

“I’m happy to know that many scientists in the US are working hard on climate change and I’m confident that they will not accept this,” she said.

Please follow and like us:

Refugee brings taste of Sudan to Utah, leaves behind pain, destruction, death

Link to web article and video here.

A smile lights up Kaltum Mohamed’s face as she readies the ingredients for a dish called moshakl she often cooked in Nyala, her hometown in the war-torn Darfur region of southwest Sudan.

She loves cooking African dishes and takes pride in her craft.

Kaltum, her husband, Ahmed, and their two children escaped the genocidal slaughter in Darfur in 2004. They fled to Libya, where things later turned deadly as well.

Recently, in the comfort of their South Salt Lake apartment, Kaltum sliced zucchinis, eggplants, potatoes and onions to prepare the dish, a fried and seasoned medley of vegetables. To accompany it, she would create asida, a boiled flour pudding served with dagareda, a meat and tomato sauce seasoned with garlic, cumin, black pepper, dill weed and parsley.

It’s a lot of work, but she dove into it with a sense of purpose.

Fighting in Darfur continues — ethnic cleansing supported by leaders in Khartoum, the capital in the eastern part of Sudan. Khartoum and the surrounding area are dominated by Arab Muslims. Darfur, by contrast, is made up primarily of black Muslims, while South Sudan is predominantly black Christians.

“In Darfur, people would come and kill everything they see,” Kaltum said. “We were so afraid we would lose our kids.”

Some of her extended family members, she lamented, were killed.

They escaped to Benghazi, Libya, in 2005, where Kaltum and Ahmed had three more children before that country disintegrated into civil war. In 2011, they retreated again, this time seeking shelter in a dusty and precarious refugee camp on the Libyan-Egyptian border.

“It was a very harsh time for us in the camp,” she said. “Thank God for the U.N. peacekeepers.”

Their luck changed in April 2013, when the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees selected them for immigration to the United States.

Refugees do not get to choose where the U.N. will send them. Under the Obama administration, this country accepted 110,000 refugees each year. President Donald Trump said he will cut that number in half.

The Mohamed family members were sponsored by the International Rescue Committee. Kaltum also gets support from Women of the World (womenofworld.org), a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit that seeks to help refugees assimilate into American culture. Four years after their arrival, they seem at peace in Utah.

Kaltum’s kitchen is stocked with large pots and pans. She is used to cooking for big gatherings, she explained, stirring and seasoning the vegetables.

Memories flood back as she fixes the asida, a dish she regularly made in Sudan. “It reminds me of my [extended] family,” she said. “We often gathered to eat together.”

Her hometown, Nyala, is a trading center known for its textiles and leather goods. Ahmed owned a small clothing shop there. The couple had a comfortable home in the bustling city of half a million. Life was good, Kaltum said.

She recalled her childhood, when she and her schoolmates dressed in nice uniforms and grew up in tranquility. At soccer games, they cheered and sang glorious songs about their country.

“It was beautiful and peaceful,” she said. “But then we lost everything.”

Ahmed was ordered out of his store at gunpoint. There was no going back.

The unrest in Sudan and the accompanying genocide are the products of ethnic prejudices, oil money and the expansion of the Sahara that is making arable land scarcer in Darfur.

South Sudan is rich in oil. But most of the profits were kept in Khartoum, near the northern ports on the Red Sea, where it is exported, mostly to China. That is chief among reasons why South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July 2011.

The oil money financed Khartoum’s aggression in Darfur. It paid for bombers, helicopter gunships and financed the Janjaweed, the Sudanese Arab militias made up of herdsmen who raid towns and villages on horseback, burning houses, raping and killing the black Muslim residents.

An estimated 480,000 people have been killed in Darfur, according to the U.N. Some 2.8 million have been displaced.

Despite those horrors, Kaltum and her family have been able to move on.

Their eldest daughter, Masagid, 19, shares her mother’s sunny disposition and infectious smile. She attends Salt Lake Community College training to become a dental hygienist.

Her other daughters, Maazah, 7, and Manra, 8, attend public school, as do sons, Abdul,11, and Mohamed, 16. They act like regular, fun-loving kids.

Ahmed works at a chocolate factory, and Kaltum has a fledgling Sudanese catering business called Mother of All. Recently, she began operating a food truck and sells Sudanese dishes around the valley.

“We are happy to have a new life,” Kaltum said. “We are happy to be safe in America.”

Traditionally, Sudanese eat with their fingers, as do the people of many other African countries. The asida (flour pudding) and dagareda (tomato meat sauce) are served in a common bowl. Diners use their fingers to pull away a piece of asida and swipe it through the dagareda. The combination yields a full-bodied taste sensation. The moshakl ­(seasoned vegetables) compliments it with a fresh, light touch; spicy but not overbearing.

Her food truck brings a taste of Sudan to Utah. Kaltum loves that thought.

csmart@sltrib.com

Please follow and like us:

New report blames South Sudan military for civilian deaths

Link to web article here.

In this photo taken Monday, June 19, 2017, Elizabeth Adwok, left, an ethnic Shilluk who arrived with her seven children in April after having been forcefully displaced from her home three times since South Sudan’s conflict began, cooks sorghum in her small hut in the village of Aburoc, South Sudan where she lives with other displaced people. A new report by Amnesty International says South Sudanese forces burned, shelled and ransacked homes between January and May, killing civilians and forcing thousands from the Shilluk ethnic minority to flee. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

Albin Koolekheh watched his 4-year-old son die in his arms. He and his family were among tens of thousands of people who escaped a wave of fighting in South Sudan’s civil war, only to find themselves living in a filthy camp near the border with Sudan.

A new report by Amnesty International says South Sudanese forces burned, shelled and ransacked homes between January and May, killing civilians and forcing thousands like Koolekheh from the Shilluk ethnic minority to flee.

“Even considering South Sudan’s history of ethnic hostility,” the mass displacement was shocking, the report says.

As South Sudan faces its fourth year of civil war, the fighting shows no signs of ending. Both government and opposition forces have been accused of war crimes including mass rape and targeted killings, while the United Nations warns of ethnic violence. While the focus has been on ethnic tensions between the Dinka of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer of rebel leader Riek Machar, the new report highlights the threat to others caught in the crossfire.

When government troops attacked his hometown of Wau Shilluk in January, Koolekheh grabbed his wife and three children and left. After a day of walking through the bush, his youngest son fell sick. With no food or water, the boy died on the side of the road.

“Bullets, guns, screaming, it was everywhere,” the weary 32-year-old father told The Associated Press this week. “This violence is known to the world. But what is everyone doing about it?”

Now Koolekheh crouches on the dirt floor in the back room of a small shop, scrubbing metal bowls with a rag, his eyes fixed on the floor.

He and his family are sheltering in Aburoc, an ad hoc displaced person’s camp. At the peak of the fighting, 25,000 people were living in this bleak shantytown. Now roughly 10,000 remain, the rest gone to Sudan or nearby villages.

Makeshift houses with plastic roofs are scattered across muddy fields. Food is scarce and disease is rife. A cholera outbreak threatened the population in May.

Yet many have no choice but to call this town home. This is their third or fourth attempt at finding refuge in less than six months after being uprooted over and over by violence.

Satellite imagery collected by Amnesty International shows the destruction of homes and other civilian buildings, including a temple, in the central areas of Wau Shilluk.

The group’s report says government troops often deliberately killed civilians, shooting them in the back when they tried to flee.

“These accounts are unfounded,” said a South Sudan military spokesman, Col. Santo Domic Chol. He said it isn’t within the military’s mandate to kill civilians and chase them from their homes.

Yet stories abound of families fleeing for their lives.

When government forces attacked the nearby opposition-held town of Kodok three months ago, Victoria Adhong said she fled and will never go back. Although Aburoc is currently peaceful, Adhong, the acting governor of Fashoda state, said it’s hard to feel safe when the “enemy’s next door.”

Another of the displaced, Elizabeth Adwok, said she fled Kodok with her seven children amid gunfire. They arrived in Aburoc in April and have struggled to find food, with little in the market and prices high.

“We’re not here because we like it,” Adwok said. “But we have nothing.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few organizations with a presence in Aburoc, warned that with the onset of the rainy season things will only get worse.

“Access to food, water and health care is extremely limited,” said Matthieu Desselas, head of the office in Kodok.

But for the thousands of civilians already so far from their homes, this town is their last hope.

“It’s the only place left for me in South Sudan,” Koolekheh said. “I’ll stay here until there’s peace.”

Please follow and like us:

Pope Pledges More Than $500,000 in South Sudan Aid

Link to web article here.

Pope Francis is offering 460,000 euros (more than $500,000) in aid for South Sudan to help finance two hospitals, a school and farm equipment.

The Associated Press

In this photo taken Monday, June 19, 2017, a displaced family carrying their belongings walks in search of refuge towards the village of Aburoc, South Sudan. A new report by Amnesty International says South Sudanese forces burned, shelled and ransacked homes between January and May, killing civilians and forcing thousands from the Shilluk ethnic minority to flee. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is offering 460,000 euros (more than $500,000) in aid for South Sudan to help finance two hospitals, a school and farm equipment.

Francis had hoped to visit South Sudan in October to draw attention to the plight of its people faced with starvation and civil war, but called off the trip because the conditions wouldn’t permit it.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, Francis’ point-man for peace and refugee issues, said Wednesday the aid project aims to show his personal solidarity with South Sudan’s people.

The money will go to help fund two hospitals run by the Combonian missionary sisters, a primary school run by a humanitarian group “Solidarity with South Sudan” and an agricultural project run by the Vatican’s Caritas foundation.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Please follow and like us:

South Sudan faces acute fuel shortage

Link to web article here.

June 20, 2017 (JUBA) – Fuel shortage in South Sudan worsened on Tuesday amid reports of massive corruption in the national oil supplier, Nile Petroleum (NilePet), with a liter costing 110 South Sudan Pound, the highest price for gasoline ever recorded.

JPEG - 45.4 kb
Motorcycles line up for hours to get fuel before it runs out July 18, 2012 in Juba, South Sudan. (Getty)

Early this week, commuters and public transport system were paralysed in the capital Juba and government departments closed.

A government administrator said his ministry’s offices remained closed this week, due to shortage of fuel to power the generator.

“We have sent many, very many letters to NilePet requesting fuel for our generator for the last three weeks but never got a single litter because we did not pay bribes. A liter costs 22 SSP at the station but you have to pay extra 8 SSP per litter and extra 5,000 SSP to the national security to escort the fuel tank to the ministry,” the ministry official, who asked not to be identified, told Sudan Tribune Tuesday.

NilePet imports fuel from neighbouring East African countries since oil producing South Sudan has no oil refinery, but only one-third of fuel demands is covered and sold at official price of 22 SSP per litter, a quarter of the black market price of about 160 SSP or $1 per litter. But on Tuesday, a liter of petrol reached its highest level ever.

“Right now, water bottle of one and half litters costs 220 SSP. That means, a litter is sold at least 140 SSP,” said Peter, a taxi driver.

Mary Achai, a black market dealer, confirmed the souring price, attributing it to lack fuel and rising prices of food items in the market.

“We [black market dealers] buy this fuel from the Security [officials] at a very price and had to make a little profit,” explained Achai.

NilePet has, however, denied manipulating fuel supplies for it benefits and in a statement issued on Tuesday said several fuel tanks were heading to Juba from Nimule at South Sudan- Uganda border.

In various locations of the South Sudanese capital, the average price for a litter of fuel went for 115 SSP, which is six times the official price.

(ST)

Please follow and like us:

Sudan military helicopter crashes killing crew: army

Link to web article here.

The Russian-built Mi-17 helicopter crashed late on Tuesday due to

The Russian-built Mi-17 helicopter crashed late on Tuesday due to “bad weather” in state capital Dongola, army spokesman Brigadier Ahmed Khalifa Shami said in a statement.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

A Sudanese military helicopter has crashed in Northern State, killing all four crew members on board, the army said on Wednesday, in the latest accident to hit its ageing fleet.

The Russian-built Mi-17 helicopter crashed late on Tuesday due to “bad weather” in state capital Dongola, army spokesman Brigadier Ahmed Khalifa Shami said in a statement.

“All four crew members on board were martyred.”

Sudan’s fleet of Russian-manufactured aircraft has suffered several crashes in recent years, with the military frequently blaming technical problems and bad weather.

In April 2016, a Soviet-era Antonov An-26 transport plane crashed while landing in El Obeid, capital of North Kordofan state. All five crew members on board were killed.

In June 2013, two air force crew died when their helicopter crashed in war-torn Blue Nile state, just a week after one went down in South Kordofan state, another war zone.

The military has relied heavily on air power in its campaign against rebel groups in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur.

Rebels often claim to have shot down military aircraft in Sudan’s conflict zones.

Please follow and like us:

UN-BACKED REPORT: SOUTH SUDAN NO LONGER CLASSIFIED AS IN FAMINE

Link to web article here.

An estimated 6 million people, half the population, are expected to be severely food insecure.

Residents from South Sudan pictured at the protection of civilians (PoC) site adjacent to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base. Picture: United Nations.

Residents from South Sudan pictured at the protection of civilians (PoC) site adjacent to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base. Picture: United Nations.

JUBA – South Sudan is no longer classified as being in famine, although 45,000 people in Jonglei and Unity states are expected to remain in famine-like conditions and the situation is still very critical, a UN-backed food security report said on Wednesday.

An estimated six million people, half the population, are expected to be severely food insecure this month and next, the report said.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report was based on a survey by a working group including government and UN officials.

Please follow and like us:

PICTURES: US envoy to Sudan pushes for aid in ex-rebel bastion

Link to web article here.

 Steven Koutsis (File: AFP)

Steven Koutsis (File: AFP)

Golo – The top US envoy in Sudan pushed on Monday for more access to deliver humanitarian aid to Golo as he visited the former rebel stronghold in war-torn Darfur under tight security.

US charge d’affaires Steven Koutsis was in Golo as part of a tour to assess the security situation in Darfur as the United Nations prepares to downsize its 17 000-strong peacekeeping force.

Koutsis’ visit to the town surrounded by the thickly forested mountains of Jebel Marra comes weeks before President Donald Trump’s administration decides whether to permanently lift a two-decades old US trade embargo on Sudan.

“Golo is a strategic area for providing humanitarian assistance,” he told officials and security officers he met in a tightly secured building, an AFP correspondent reported from the venue.

Khartoum restricts the access of international media to Darfur and particularly to Jebel Marra, which foreign media have been unable to visit for years.

“That is why we are here to understand better what is needed to bring more assistance here,” Koutsis said.

Aid workers have complained that delivering aid to Golo and other parts of Jebel Marra has been extremely difficult given the terrain and the severe restrictions imposed by the Sudanese authorities.

They say a road journey to Golo is a challenging experience in itself, with several hours needed to reach the town given its location in the hilly areas of central Darfur.

The Sudan Liberation Army – Abdul Wahid group (SLA/AW) were attracted to Golo because of the region’s wealth of natural resources, its fertile ground and mountainous terrain.

Crowds of children and villagers gather to welcome Steven Koutsis (3rd-R), the United States’ top envoy in Sudan, in the war-torn town of Golo in the thickly forested mountainous area of Jebel Marra in central Darfur . (AFP)

The main rebel group of Jebel Marra turned Golo into their stronghold until it came under government control last year.

Pleas for aid 

A 90-minute helicopter flight brought Koutsis to Golo, where he was welcomed by cheering children who poured out from their homes to a makeshift helipad where the chopper landed.

Children ran behind his convoy of armoured vehicles as it travelled down a rocky road while groups of women watched the motorcade from the street.

The impact of the fighting on Jebel Marra is clear in Golo.

The town is rife with half-built brick homes damaged in the fighting, muddy roads and queues of women and children waiting to collect water in plastic cans from hand pumps.

An official from Sudan Humanitarian Commission told Koutsis that Golo needed better infrastructure, including well-built schools, roads and healthcare facilities.

“Many classes are held in school rooms without roofs,” said Abdo Aldeem.

Workers at Golo’s only hospital say they are struggling to deal with malnutrition among children and provide better care for pregnant women.

Several children suffering from severe malnutrition are being treated at the hospital, the AFP correspondent accompanying Koutsis reported. The walls of the hospital still had pro-rebel graffiti.

“Only yesterday a child died,” a Unicef worker said.

Jebel Marra saw pitched battles last year between government forces and the SLA/AW group, which Khartoum accuses of ambushing military convoys and attacking civilians.

In September, Amnesty International accused Sudanese forces of carrying out chemical attacks during military operation against the rebel group.

‘Big assistance’ 

Sudanese officials including President Omar al-Bashir have denied these charges.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced in Jebel Marra in last year’s fighting, the United Nations says.

 United States’ top envoy in Sudan, Steven Koutsis (C), poses for a photograph next to North Darfur deputy governor Mohamed al-Nabi (C-L) and other officials.(AFP)

Deadly conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003 when ethnic minority groups took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, which launched a brutal counter-insurgency.

At least 300 000 people have since been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur, the UN says.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on alleged war crimes and genocide charges related to Darfur, which he denies.

On Monday, Koutsis also pushed for a strong presence of UN peacekeeping forces in Golo and other parts of Jebel Marra – an area where UN forces are still not deployed.

Steven Koutsis (R), the United States’ top envoy in Sudan, poses for a picture with Sudanese children and villagers in the war-torn town of Golo in the thickly forested mountainous area of Jebel Marra in central Darfur.(AFP) 

He said that although UNAMID is expected to be restructured, its forces need to be present in Jebel Marra.

“We need to have UNAMID present here… to offer big assistance to the local region,” he said.

Access for delivering humanitarian aid and ensuring security in Darfur are key conditions insisted by Washington in order to lift sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997.

Although Washington believes Khartoum’s terror ties have ebbed, it has kept sanctions in place because of the scorched-earth tactics it has used against ethnic minority rebels in Darfur.

Please follow and like us:

US envoy to Sudan pushes for aid in ex-rebel bastion

Link to web article here.

Displaced civilians sit on the ground after receiving relief supplies ahead of moving into a new camp in Bentiu, South Sudan June 18, 2017. Photo: Reuters

The top US envoy in Sudan pushed Monday for more access to deliver humanitarian aid to Golo as he visited the former rebel stronghold in war-torn Darfur under tight security.

US charge d’affaires Steven Koutsis was in Golo as part of a tour to assess the security situation in Darfur as the United Nations prepares to downsize its 17,000-strong peacekeeping force.

Koutsis’s visit to the town surrounded by the thickly forested mountains of Jebel Marra comes weeks before President Donald Trump’s administration decides whether to permanently lift a two-decades-old US trade embargo on Sudan.

“Golo is a strategic area for providing humanitarian assistance,” he told officials and security officers he met in a tightly secured building, an AFP correspondent reported from the venue.

Khartoum restricts the access of international media to Darfur and particularly to Jebel Marra, which foreign media have been unable to visit for years.

“That is why we are here to understand better what is needed to bring more assistance here,” Koutsis said.

Aid workers have complained that delivering aid to Golo and other parts of Jebel Marra has been extremely difficult given the terrain and the severe restrictions imposed by the Sudanese authorities.

They say a road journey to Golo is a challenging experience in itself, with several hours needed to reach the town given its location in the hilly areas of central Darfur.

The Sudan Liberation Army – Abdul Wahid group (SLA/AW) were attracted to Golo because of the region’s wealth of natural resources, its fertile ground and mountainous terrain.

The main rebel group of Jebel Marra turned Golo into their stronghold until it came under government control last year.

Pleas for aid

A 90-minute helicopter flight brought Koutsis to Golo, where he was welcomed by cheering children who poured out from their homes to a makeshift helipad where the chopper landed.

Children ran behind his convoy of armoured vehicles as it travelled down a rocky road while groups of women watched the motorcade from the street.

The impact of the fighting on Jebel Marra is clear in Golo.

The town is rife with half-built brick homes damaged in the fighting, muddy roads and queues of women and children waiting to collect water in plastic cans from hand pumps.

An official from Sudan Humanitarian Commission told Koutsis that Golo needed better infrastructure, including well-built schools, roads and healthcare facilities.

“Many classes are held in school rooms without roofs,” said Abdo Aldeem.

Workers at Golo’s only hospital say they are struggling to deal with malnutrition among children and provide better care for pregnant women.

Several children suffering from severe malnutrition are being treated at the hospital, the AFP correspondent accompanying Koutsis reported. The walls of the hospital still had pro-rebel graffiti.

“Only yesterday a child died,” a UNICEF worker said.

Jebel Marra saw pitched battles last year between government forces and the SLA/AW group, which Khartoum accuses of ambushing military convoys and attacking civilians.

In September, Amnesty International accused Sudanese forces of carrying out chemical attacks during a military operation against the rebel group.

Big assistance

Sudanese officials including President Omar al-Bashir have denied these charges.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced in Jebel Marra in last year’s fighting, the United Nations says.

Deadly conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003 when ethnic minority groups took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, which launched a brutal counter-insurgency.

At least 300,000 people have since been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur, the UN says.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on alleged war crimes and genocide charges related to Darfur, which he denies.

On Monday, Koutsis also pushed for a strong presence of UN peacekeeping forces in Golo and other parts of Jebel Marra — an area where UN forces are still not deployed.

He said that although UNAMID is expected to be restructured, its forces need to be present in Jebel Marra.

“We need to have UNAMID present here… to offer big assistance to the local region,” he said.

Access for delivering humanitarian aid and ensuring security in Darfur are key conditions insisted by Washington in order to lift sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997.

The sanctions were imposed over Khartoum’s alleged support for Islamist groups.

Although Washington believes Khartoum’s terror ties have ebbed, it has kept sanctions in place because of the scorched-earth tactics it has used against ethnic minority rebels in Darfur.

AFP

Please follow and like us: