Misleading statements of U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Khartoum

By Eric Reeves

The Trump administration State Department is evidently content to allow recently appointed Charge d’Affaires Steven Koutsis to remain the senior U.S. diplomat in Khartoum, serving as the primary interlocutor on a day-to-day basis with the genocidal National Congress Party regime, which is now celebrating the 28th anniversary of the military coup that brought it to power—as the National Islamic Front, whose ideology the NCP has never abandoned, only trimmed as circumstances warrant.

In his brief tenure (he was appointed only last year) Koutsis has been the spokesman for views that are disingenuously framed, typically misleading, and alarmingly tendentious. Most alarming are his comments of June 24, first reported by Agence France-Presse (El Daien, East Darfur | June 24, 2017), but subsequently by many other news organizations. Referring to those expressing grave concern about Khartoum’s increasing repression and continuing violent suppression of political dissent, religious intolerance, its abysmal human rights record, and its continuing deployment of brutal militia forces in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, Koutsis declared:

“None of these other issues were the point of sanctions, and none of these other issues, therefore, should be linked to the lifting of sanctions.”

Here Koutsis is so egregiously in error that we must question his basic diplomatic competence in dealing with the Khartoum regime. U.S. economic sanctions imposed by President Clinton in 1997 are explicit about why they were being imposed; in the Preface of his Executive Order, Clinton declared:

We must wonder what part of “the prevalence of human rights violations, including slavery and the denial of religious freedom” escaped Koutsis’ understanding. Rather more to the point, we must ask whether it was an unforgiveable ignorance of this language in the 1997 Executive Order—or a cynical belief that no one would call him on the outrageous inaccuracy of his statement.

Does Koutsis think that “human rights violations” in Sudan are a minor issue, merely a tag-on to U.S. concerns about Khartoum’s support for international terrorism, support that has kept the NIF/NCP regime on the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism” for 20 years? Sudan, Syria, and Iran are the only three countries in the world that remain on this list, and for good reason.

But that fact in no way diminishes the appalling nature of human rights abuses by the same regime in its treatment of its own people: torture by the security services is commonplace; the denial of press freedoms only grows more rigorous; suppression of demonstrations has taken the form of regime orders to “shoot to kill” demonstrators (September 2013); political power-sharing and democratization has been relentlessly subverted; bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets by the regime’s military aircraft has been a primary tactic in its wars against marginalize populations living in Sudan’s peripheries (see | http://wp.me/p45rOG-Pv ); chemical weapons were used against civilians in Jebel Marra during the savage military offensive mounted by the regime’s regular and militia forces in 2016 (established conclusively by Amnesty International | September 29, 2016 | https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/chemical-weapons-attacks-darfur/ ).

Koutsis would evidently have us believe that none of this matters, or bears on the decision about whether the U.S. should lift sanctions on the regime—sanctions actually strengthened under the Bush administration in 2006 in response to the regime’s continuing genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur. President (and former self-promoted “Field Marshal”) Omar al-Bashir—installed in office during the 1989 military coup—is the target of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, charging him with multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. The ICC has issued arrest warrant for other members of regime, charging them with crimes against humanity; and many more arrest warrants will be issued when the regime eventually falls.

Again, then, what are we to make of Koutsis’ viciously inaccurate claim that all this is beside the point?

“None of these other issues were the point of sanctions, and none of these other issues, therefore, should be linked to the lifting of sanctions.”

If nothing else, this pernicious falsehood provides context for other of Koutsis’ remarks this year, remarks that create a deeply distorted and highly tendentious picture of present conditions in Sudan—and Darfur in particular.

One of the key “tracks” stipulated in the gravely misguided decision by President Obama to lift sanctions provisionally (January 13, 2017) was an improvement in humanitarian access. The Khartoum regime has for almost three decades used the denial of humanitarian access as a central weapon of war in its counter-insurgency campaigns: in the Nuba Mountains and South Sudan in the 1990s and through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005; in Darfur from the beginning of major fighting in 2003; and again in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile State beginning in summer 2011.

This has been extraordinarily well documented, by journalists, humanitarian workers, and human rights organizations. So when former Obama administration UN ambassador Samantha Power declared in her last UN press conference (January 13, 2017) that there had been “sea change” of improvement in humanitarian access in Sudan, she was promulgating a deeply destructive falsehood, one admitted to be such by State Department officials. Yet no clarification or correction came—even from Power’s friends in the administration, including National Security Advisor Susan Rice and US Agency for International Development Administrator Gayle Smith, who said nothing—and this perverse characterization stands as the last word prior to Koutsis’ recent remarks on the issue:

“I can say without much hesitation that, with the few exceptions, the advances on the five tracks have been positive,” US charge d’affaires in Khartoum, Steven Koutsis, said. “The few exceptions being… the implementation of humanitarian access is uneven… and that we want to see that the government begins to act more on moving towards a more permanent agreement with the opposition” on ending hostilities.

“The implementation of humanitarian access is uneven”?

What a preposterous understatement: rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile remain under a humanitarian embargo imposed by the regime, which has resolutely refused to negotiate humanitarian access in good faith. In February 2012 an African Union, UN, and Arab League proposal for such access (known as the “Tripartite Proposal”) was accepted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile—but was rejected by Khartoum. Over more than five years, in countless negotiating session, the regime has found ways to accept and then renege, to add condition after condition, to do everything possible to make an agreement on humanitarian access impossible.

Yet when Koutsis weighed in on this issue in a piece written for Sudan Tribune (March 3, 2017), he essentially blamed the SPLM-North leadership, pointing to their reservation about a questionable U.S. proposal made in November 2016—but referring to none of the antecedent history of bad faith by the regime that led to the SPLM-North reservation. This extremely attenuated version of the history of this critical issue is all too typical of what we have seen of Koutsis, who has also not done nearly enough to highlight the overwhelming urgency of the humanitarian situation in Darfur, where access continues to be denied by the regime to many hundreds of thousands of civilians (almost 1 million people according to one highly-informed humanitarian source).

[See also: http://sudanreeves.org/2017/04/04/famine-in-south-sudan-should-not-obscure-urgent-food-crisis-in-sudan/]

Humanitarian access is “uneven”? This is simply disgraceful dishonesty given the number of people denied any humanitarian relief by the regime Koutsis seems so eager to give a passing grade:

“I can say without much hesitation that, with the few exceptions, the advances on the five tracks have been positive,” US charge d’affaires in Khartoum, Steven Koutsis, said. (AFP, June 24, 2017)

Koutsis simply refuses to acknowledge the extent of desperate humanitarian need in Sudan, and this now includes a raging cholera epidemic, affecting nearly all of Sudan, and that has now reached Darfur just as the rainy season begins in earnest. Humanitarian access could not be more urgently required and the distortions by former UN ambassador Samantha Power and now Steven Koutsis are terrible betrayals of people in critical need.

Koutsis seems already to be looking past the decision on whether to lift U.S. economic sanctions permanently, going so far as to declare last August (2016):

The acting U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Khartoum Steven Koutsis has expressed his country’s keenness to provide technical and logistical support for Sudan to face challenges of climate change. (Sudan Tribune | August 22, 2016 | KHARTOUM)

But about the chemical weapons assault by Khartoum against the civilians of Jebel Marra—also in 2016—Koutsis said not a word, a silence in which he was joined by the rest of the world, including those who profess themselves outraged by the use of chemical weapons in Syria. This Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry, who called chemical weapons use in Syria a “moral obscenity,” but was completely silent about what Amnesty International had conclusively demonstrated about Khartoum’s use of the same sort of weapons in Jebel Marra.

Climate change is a real, present, and massive danger to the world; but chemical weapons use in Darfur is not for that reason less a matter of the gravest concern, a concern that U.S. Charge d’Affaires Steven Koutsis evidently does not share.

Nor does he share the concern articulated so comprehensively in two recent reports on Khartoum’s success in turning Darfur into a “militia state”:

Border Control from Hell: How the EU’s migration partnership legitimizes Sudan’s “militia state” The Enough Project | April 5, 2017 [by Suliman Baldo] | http://www.enoughproject.org/files/BorderControl_April2017_Enough_Finals.pdf

“Remote-control breakdown: Sudanese paramilitary forces and pro-government militias,” Small Arms Survey (Geneva), No. 27, April 2017 | http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/issue-briefs/HSBA-IB-27-Sudanese-paramilitary-forces.pdf

Not to highlight the central role of Khartoum-backed militias in Darfur—to say only that “we want to see that the government begins to act more on moving towards a more permanent agreement with the opposition” on ending hostilities—is to reveal either ignorance or indifference to the most consequential nature of present violence and insecurity in Darfur. Koutsis declares, “Yes, I can say with absolute certainty that Darfur today is more peaceful than it was a year ago.” But his “certainty” is only superficially informed—like his knowledge of the contents of the 1997 Executive Order he wishes to see ended permanently—and ignores countless dispatches from Radio Dabanga and Sudan Tribune that make nonsense of Koutsis’ characterization.

The rape of women and girls is relentless [http://wp.me/p45rOG-1QG/]; the violent expropriation of African farmland by Arab militias and armed groups continues apace [http://wp.me/p45rOG-1P /; camps for the displaced face relentless assaults in one form or another, some by way of arson. Khartoum has made no secret of its wish to dismantle the camps [http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Qo/], a task that will be made easier and less visible with the slashing of UNAMID—44 percent of its present (already reduced) military presence, and over 30 percent of its police forces (also already reduced). If the camps are dismantled and emptied, we may expect a collapse of organized humanitarian relief and an orgy of violence as people lose their only security, tenuous though it is.

In the face of these realities, it would appear that Koutsis is a man equally capable of both the most culpable ignorance and the most cynical indifference to human suffering in the country where he serves as the United States’ senior diplomat. Moreover, as AFP editorializes in its dispatch, Koutsis’ “assessment of Darfur is expected to guide Washington’s decision on sanctions.”

Given Koutsis demonstrated ignorance and cynicism, we must fear a terribly unjust reward awaits Khartoum’s génocidaires.

Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights

Link to web article here.

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Japan envoy urges release of S. Sudan political detainees

July 5, 2017 (JUBA) – The Japanese ambassador in South Sudan, Kiya Masahiko has called for the release of political detainees who are currently being held in connection to the ongoing conflict in the world’s youngest nation.

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Japan’s envoy to South Sudan Kiya Masahiko meets President Salva Kiir in Juba, July 5, 2017 (ST)

Such a move, he said, paves way for an inclusive national dialogue.

Masahiko made the call Wednesday after holding talks with South Sudan President on issues of mutual interest, during which he called on the latter to “make concrete steps and ensure that all the people of South Sudan broadly participate, agree and accept its agenda and outcomes to make the national dialogue successful”.

“I came to visit his Excellency the president and to discuss with him issues of mutual interests and to the people of both countries. Japanese government and people hopes to see South Sudanese leaders take “concrete steps” towards achieving peace in the country”, the diplomat told reporters in the capital, Juba.

Wednesday meeting, he further disclosed, mainly centered on issues related to current situation in the war-torn nation, and that he appreciated the move taken by the president when he launched the national dialogue, but needs to be followed by concrete steps.

Masahiko, however, assured the president of Japan’s commitment towards the national dialogue and the peace process, but urged government to improve and provide a conductive environment in terms of commitment of the ceasefire, release of political prisoners, enhancing security and allow free movement of aid agencies.

These measures, he further stressed, would contribute into making National Dialogue an inclusive, transparent and credible.

The envoy also used the occasion to appeal to South Sudan opposition leaders to willingly join the national dialogue process.

Officially launched in May this year, he national dialogue is both a forum and process through which the people South Sudan shall gather to redefine the basis of their unity as it relates to nationhood, redefine citizenship and belonging, as well as restructure the state for national inclusion.

Since mid-December 2013, tens of thousands of people have been killed and over two million displaced in South Sudan’s wort-ever violence outbreak.


Link to web article here.

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IGAD Approves S. Sudan’s High-Level Revitalization Forum For Peace

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Council of Ministers has approved the Indicative Implementation Matrix of the High-Level Revitalization Forum for the peace agreement.

By Peter Lokale TORIT, 04 July 2017 [Gurtong] –Last month, a summit of IGAD heads of State and government decided to convene a meeting of the signatories of the South Sudan peace agreement to discuss ways to revitalize the implementation.

The summit decided that the meeting will include all the groups to discuss concrete measures to restore permanent ceasefire.

In a communiqué issued Tuesday, the IGAD Council of Ministers called on parties to the peace agreement, to seize this opportunity to revitalize the deal, renounce violence, to develop, and submit concrete proposals. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization has welcomed the IGAD council of Ministers’ decision as it urged the South Sudan conflicting parties to speedily take strong stand for following the pathway for non-violent approach for resolving their political differences.

Mr. Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of CEPO said in a statement extended to Gurtong Tuesday that non-violent pathway for resolving political difference in South Sudan should be the best approach and it should be embraced by both the country’s conflicting parties.

“… Taking the violent approach for resolving political difference is unacceptable because it is destructive to both human lives and properties.”

The CEPO’s Executive Director expressed that resolving political differences amicably should be adopted and should remain a culture for championing democratization in South Sudan by the political movement and elites.

“We are expecting the IGAD called forum to be executed in participatory and representative manner that allows South Sudanese to resolve their political difference as their primary responsibility,” Mr. Yakani stressed.

Link to web article here.

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South Sudan gunmen abduct 8 foreign and local workers: U.

July 4, 2017 (JUBA) – Unknown gunmen abducted eight foreign and local workers outside a United Nations protection of civilian site in the South Sudanese capital, but released them two days later.

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Aid workers and civilians arrive from Juba to Entebbe airport in Uganda, Wednesday, July, 13, 2016.(AP Photo)

The U.N. mission in South Sudan said workers of a private company contracted to a non-governmental entity were seized on Friday while drilling water and released on Sunday.

Their release followed negotiations involving the country’s security services.

The abduction of aid workers depicts the level of insecurity aid workers in the young nation face while doing humanitarian work.

More than 80 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan’s civil war and millions of citizens displaced by the fighting in the war-torn nation, recent U.N figures show.

Over 200,000 people have sought shelter at the U.N due to the fighting in South Sudan.

South Sudan was plunged into conflict in December 2013 as the rivalry between Kiir and his then-Vice President, Riek Machar, turned into a civil war. The fighting, which has often been along ethnic lines, triggered Africa’s worst refugee crisis, with over three million people fleeing their home.


Link to article here.

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Psalm 33:9-22

Common English Bible (CEB)

Because when He spoke, it happened!
    When He commanded, there it was!

Link to pic.

10 The Lord overrules what the nations plan;
    he frustrates what the peoples intend to do.
11 But the Lord’s plan stands forever;
    what he intends to do lasts from one generation to the next.
12 The nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom God has chosen as his possession,
    is truly happy!
13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees every human being.
14 From his dwelling place God observes
    all who live on earth.
15 God is the one who made all their hearts,
    the one who knows everything they do.

16 Kings aren’t saved by the strength of their armies;
    warriors aren’t rescued by how much power they have.
17 A warhorse is a bad bet for victory;
    it can’t save despite its great strength.
18 But look here: the Lord’s eyes watch all who honor him,
    all who wait for his faithful love,
19     to deliver their lives from death
    and keep them alive during a famine.

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 Our heart rejoices in God
    because we trust his holy name.
22 Lord, let your faithful love surround us
    because we wait for you.

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Joyful proclamations

Note: Repeatedly in recent times we’ve experienced God impressing this Scripture on our hearts. God wants to bless the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan. The battle between light and darkness, good and evil is fierce over and in the Sudans. Yet, we will keep believing God’s plans for the Sudans and its peoples are good.  

  1. “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and freedom to the prisoners;
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of our God’s vengeance;
    to comfort all who mourn,
    to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
    to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
    festive oil instead of mourning,
    and splendid clothes instead of despair.
    And they will be called righteous trees,
    planted by the Lord
    to glorify him.
    They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
    they will restore the former devastations;
    they will renew the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.
    Strangers will stand and feed your flocks,
    and foreigners will be your plowmen and vinedressers.

But you will be called the Lord’s priests;
they will speak of you as ministers of our God;
you will eat the wealth of the nations,
and you will boast in their riches.
In place of your shame, you will have a double portion;
in place of disgrace, they will rejoice over their share.
So they will possess double in their land,
and eternal joy will be theirs.

For I the Lord love justice;
I hate robbery and injustice;
I will faithfully reward my people
and make a permanent covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations,
and their posterity among the peoples.
All who see them will recognize
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.

10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord,
I exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation
and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness,
as a groom wears a turban
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth produces its growth,
and as a garden enables what is sown to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.”

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The Word Becomes Flesh

Note: This is part of a new category of news – with an eternal focus – created on this blog. It is specifically part of the The WORD category.

In the beginning was the Word.[a] The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him, and apart from Him nothing was made that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it.

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that through him everyone might believe. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness concerning the light. The true light, coming into the world, gives light to every man.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him; but the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. 12 But whoever did receive Him, those trusting in His name, to these He gave the right to become children of God. 13 They were born not of a bloodline, nor of human desire, nor of man’s will, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory,[b] the glory of the one and only[c] from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John testifies about Him. He cried out, saying, “This is He of whom I said, ‘The One who comes after me is above me, because He existed before me.’” 16 Out of His fullness, we have all received grace on top of grace. 17 Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah. 18 No one has ever seen God; but the one and only God,[d] in the Father’s embrace, has made Him known.

John 1: 1 to 17

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A new frontline in South Sudan’s conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country’s fertile Equatoria region over the past year, creating ongoing atrocities, starvation and fear, according to a new Amnesty International briefing published today.

The organization’s researchers visited the region in June, documenting how mainly government but also opposition forces in the southern region have committed crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations and abuses – including war crimes – against civilians.

The atrocities have resulted in the mass displacement of close to a million people, including refugees fleeing into neighboring Uganda.

“The escalation of fighting in the Equatoria region has led to increased brutality against civilians. Men, women and children have been shot, hacked to death with machetes and burnt alive in their homes. Women and girls have been gang-raped and abducted,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who just returned from the region.

“Homes, schools, medical facilities and humanitarian organizations’ compounds have been looted, vandalized and burnt to the ground. And food is being used as a weapon of war.

“These atrocities are ongoing, with hundreds of thousands of people who only a year ago were relatively unscathed by the conflict, now forcibly displaced.”

South Sudan’s Equatoria region had been largely spared the political and inter-communal violence which has ravaged the country since 2013, when fighting broke out between members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to then Vice-President Riek Machar.

All this changed in mid-2016 when, for different reasons, both government and opposition forces descended on Yei, a strategic town of some 300,000 people 150 km southwest of the capital Juba, on a main trade route to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Government forces, supported by allied militia, including the notoriously unaccountable Mathian Anyoor – comprised of young, mainly ethnic Dinka fighters – have committed a litany of violations with impunity. Opposition armed groups have also committed grave abuses, albeit on a smaller scale.

Massacres and deliberate killings

Numerous eyewitnesses in villages around Yei told Amnesty International how government forces and allied militia deliberately killed civilians with reckless abandon. People who escaped the slaughter described a similar pattern.

In one such attack on the evening of May 16, 2017, government soldiers arbitrarily detained 11 men in Kudupi village, in Kajo Keji county, near the Uganda border. They forced eight of them into a hut, locked the door, set it ablaze and fired several shots into the burning structure. Six were killed in the incident – two burnt to death and the other four were shot as they tried to flee – four of the survivors told Amnesty International.

Joyce, a mother of six from Payawa village, south of Yei, described how her husband and five other local men were killed in a similar attack on May 18, 2017. She also told Amnesty International how soldiers had repeatedly tormented the villagers prior to the massacre:

“This was the fifth time the village was attacked by the army. In the first four attacks, they had looted stuff but not killed anyone. They used to come, arrest people, torture them and steal things. They would take people to hidden places to torture them. They would also arrest young girls and rape them and then release them. [They raped] Susie, my husband’s niece, age 18, [in the village] on 18 December 2016.”

In another incident, nine villagers disappeared after being taken by soldiers from a barracks near Gimunu, 13 kilometers outside Yei town, on May 21, 2017. A police investigation located the bodies of all nine by mid-June. The victims are believed to have been hacked to death with machetes. Nobody has been held to account, which is apparently not unusual when police try to investigate cases of soldiers killing civilians.

Attacks on villages by government forces often appear to be in revenge for the activities of opposition forces in the region.

Armed opposition fighters have also deliberately killed civilians they deem to be government supporters, often simply for being Dinka or refugees from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains region who are accused of sympathizing with the government.

Rape and other sexual and gender-based violence

Amnesty International also documented how abductions and rape of women and girls have skyrocketed across the Equatoria region since fighting escalated last year.

“The only way for women and girls to be safe is to be dead – there is no way to be safe so long as we are alive, this is how bad it is,” Mary, a 23-year-old mother of five told the organization.

In April 2017, three soldiers broke into her home in the middle of the night and two of them raped her. She later fled with her children to another abandoned home but, on another night, an unidentified attacker set fire to it as the family slept, forcing them to flee again.

Women are particularly at risk of sexual assault when they venture out of town to look for food in the surrounding rural areas – a necessity due to dwindling food supplies and increased looting.

Sofia, a 29-year-old woman, told Amnesty International how opposition forces abducted her twice. They held her captive with other women for around a month the first time and a week the second time, and she was raped repeatedly. They were undeterred by her pleas that she was a mother of three and that her husband had been shot by government forces. She later fled to Yei, where she faces dire food shortages.

Food as a weapon of war

Civilians’ access to food is severely limited. Both government and opposition forces have cut food supplies to certain areas, systematically looted food from markets and homes and targeted civilians carrying even the smallest amount of food across frontlines. Each side accuses civilians of feeding or being fed by the enemy.

In the town of Yei, the majority of whose inhabitants have fled in the past year, the remaining civilians are under virtual siege. They face severe food shortages because they are no longer able to get food in the surrounding rural areas.

On June 22, the UN warned that food insecurity had reached unprecedented levels in parts of South Sudan.

“It is a cruel tragedy of this war that South Sudan’s breadbasket – a region that a year ago could feed millions – has turned into treacherous killing fields that have forced close to a million to flee in search of safety,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.

“All parties to the conflict must rein in their fighters and immediately cease targeting civilians, who are protected under the laws of war. Those on all sides responsible for atrocities must be brought to justice. Meanwhile, UN peacekeepers must live up to their mandate to protect civilians from this ongoing onslaught.”

Link to web article here.

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Hunger Used as a Weapon of War in South Sudan, Amnesty Says


South Sudanese government forces and rebels have used hunger as a weapon of war in a region once seen as the country’s breadbasket that’s been ravaged by killings, gang-rapes and looting over the past year, Amnesty International said.

Civilians’ access to food in the southern region of Equatoria, where conflict spread last July, is “severely limited” after combatants cut supplies, looted from markets and homes and targeted civilians, the London-based advocacy group said Tuesday. It said fighters from each side accuse civilians of feeding or being fed by the enemy.

“It is a cruel tragedy of this war that South Sudan’s breadbasket — a region that a year ago could feed millions — has turned into treacherous killing fields that have forced close to a million to flee in search of safety,” Joanne Mariner, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, said. Deputy army spokesman Santo Domic said the report hadn’t been shared with the military and was biased.

South Sudan’s civil war has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced more than 3.5 million from their homes since it started in December 2013. Initially much of the fighting was focused in the north, where famine was declared in two counties in January. Though relief efforts mean the areas are no longer designated famine zones, food availability in the country is worsening due to a poor harvest and surging inflation, according to the national statistics office.

‘Grave Abuses’

Rebel groups in Equatoria, a region that had largely been spared the political violence, took up arms last year. Government forces and allied militias have committed “a litany of violations with impunity,” while armed opposition groups have also staged “grave abuses, albeit on a smaller scale,” according to Amnesty, whose researchers visited the area in June. Almost a million people have fled their homes, including to neighboring Uganda, exacerbating what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

Much of the violence has centered on the town of Yei, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of the capital, Juba, and on a main trade route to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Amnesty said eyewitnesses in surrounding villages described how government forces and allied militias “deliberately killed civilians with reckless abandon.”

The attacks on villages by government forces “often appear to be in revenge for the activities of opposition forces in the region,” according to Amnesty. It said rebel fighters also deliberately killed civilians they deemed to be government supporters, often just for being Dinka — the ethnic group to which President Salva Kiir belongs — or refugees from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains accused of sympathizing with Kiir’s administration.

Army spokesman Domic said “the rebel forces are the ones committing atrocities against the civilians because they don’t have a unifying command and control. Left unattended, they can become a security threat to the neighboring countries,” he said by phone from Juba.

Link to web article here.

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Barefoot and alone, children flee brutal South Sudan war

Unaccompanied children who arrive at the International Nguenyyiel refuge camp in Gambela, Ethiopia have fled life-threatening siutations in South Sudan

Her feet bare and her hometown in flames, Nyadet walked east alone, eating food given to her by strangers and following trails left by others escaping war in South Sudan.

She is 12 years old.

Nine days after she fled bloodshed in the flashpoint town of Malakal last November, Nyadet reached the country’s border with Ethiopia, and crossed over to safety.

“Maybe they are safe,” is all she can say of her mother, father, sister and two brothers, whom she lost track of when the streets of her hometown transformed into a war zone.

South Sudan’s civil war has raged on for the past three years with such viciousness that parts of the country are bereft of food and a third of the population has fled their homes, but few refugees present as vexing a problem as children like Nyadet who escape the conflict alone.

Around 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled the country and of that number one million are children and of those, 75,000 have fled unaccompanied by their parents.

“They are fleeing definitely life-threatening situations,” said Daniel Abate of aid group Save the Children, which helps reunite lost children with their families.

At the Nguenyyiel refugee camp near Ethiopia’s lush western frontier, boys and girls who crossed the border unaccompanied tell tales of murdered families and childhoods shattered by the unremitting violence in South Sudan.

“War happened,” is the description Nyakung, 11, gives for the atrocities she witnessed in the capital Juba, where her mother was left to die inside a blazing hut and three of her brothers were gunned down on a road while running for the safety of a UN base.

Aid agencies are trying to get children like Nyakung back with their families, but humanitarians admit that with the conflict still raging in South Sudan, the odds of these children seeing their loved ones again are slim.

– Tired and destitute –

South Sudan’s war, sparked when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup in 2013, has been marked by numerous atrocities against civilians despite the presence of thousands of UN peacekeeping troops.

Unaccompanied children who have travelled alone alone from South Sudan are sometimes reluctant to be reunited with relatives, believing it could mean returning to the violence they fled

Around 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled the country, making it the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

One million of those refugees are children, the UN says, and of that number about 75,000 were either separated from their parents or without any family at all.

Aid workers say they regularly see South Sudanese children straggling across the border, often with an adult stranger, but sometimes by themselves.

“You can tell they are very tired, their clothes (are) worn-out on them, they have not been showered for some time. So, you can see that they’re destitute,” Daniel said.

Nguenyyiel is home to nearly 2,900 children that arrived without any family, who pass their days attending school and playing in a tree-shaded jungle gym.

Chan, 13, escaped Malakal late last year when fighting erupted and the grass hut he lived in was torched.

He then walked for a month until he crossed into Ethiopia.

“I just go the direction where I see a safe place,” he said.

Some, like Nyadet, hope to one day reunite with their families.

Others hold no such hope.

Chan says he doesn’t know where his parents are but believes they must be dead.

– Slim odds –

With neither the government nor the rebels honouring a peace deal made two years ago, locating family members of lost children in the chaos of South Sudan is difficult, says Hiwotie Simachew, emergency response manager for aid group Plan International.

Some parents have also likely joined the exodus that has distributed hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees to Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and beyond.

Parents, if they are still alive, could be in refugee camps in any of these countries, or in other settlements in Ethiopia, Hiwotie said.

Plan International and Save the Children have managed to reunite hundreds of youths with their families, but that’s just a fraction of the around 31,500 children Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs says have arrived without their parents.

Even when family members are located, some don’t want to take custody of the children.

In one case, aid workers found the uncle of three unaccompanied minors in Australia, but he declined to adopt them, Hiwotie said.

In other instances, it’s the children themselves who resist reunion, because they believe that would mean a return to the violence from which they escaped.

“They are refusing to reunify with their family and thinking that, if they show their interest, they will return back to South Sudan,” Hiwotie said.

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