More than five years after its independence, South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, is plagued by civil war. The regular army and rebel troops have been fighting since 2013. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the brutal conflict and up to three million displaced.
When South Sudan celebrated its independence from Sudan in 2011, its citizens celebrated the birth of their new nation together. A long war had ended; people could finally dream of a better future. But in 2013, civil war broke out. The regular army, which takes orders from President Salva Kiir, opposed the rebel troops of Vice President Riek Machar. What began as a political conflict became an ethnic one. Torture, assassinations, gang rape, enlisting of child soldiers... the atrocities have become widespread.
In April 2016, the climate seemed to improve. Kiir invited Machar to return to Juba to resume his post as vice-president. A fragile peace took hold, but was broken less than three months later. In July, fresh clashes shook the capital. Machar had to flee again, with Juba in flames. Many civilians were killed, including inside a UN internally displaced persons camp. Unable to ensure their security, the UN peacekeepers were forced to retreat.
Since then, the South Sudanese live in fear of a new attack, or a new massacre. The UN even fears that a genocide will take place in the country if nothing is done to stop the violence.
Appalling living conditions in UN camp
Travel in South Sudan is very difficult. The country has no proper roads, and the dirt tracks that connect cities are regularly targeted by armed gangs. The only solution to reach the north of the country - where we filmed part of this report - is to board a UN plane carrying peacekeepers.
On arrival, we discover that Malakal, once the country’s second-largest city, is totally isolated. There is no longer a phone network and virtually all the vehicles have been destroyed. We borrow one of the few cars still in working condition to get around the almost deserted city.
In Malakal, the fighting has been particularly violent. Suspicions are high among ethnic groups, with everyone fearing new fighting. Tens of thousands of civilians still live under UN protection, confined to a camp that is supposed to protect them. But there is a lack of food and the living conditions are appalling.
Some people decide to flee and board boats to sail up the Nile towards the rebel zones. We join them and reach the first city in the north, Wau-Shilluk. Many have taken refuge there, hoping to be protected from their government. All of them hope to return to Malakal one day. But since the fighting is never far away, they seem doomed to remain in this area wedged between the Nile and the marshland.