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‘More than 9,000 children’ fighting in South Sudan

Photo: AFP

There are more than 9,000 child soldiers fighting on both sides in the South Sudan conflict, the UN’s human rights chief said Wednesday.


Speaking during a visit to the country’s capital Juba, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay highlighted the “drastic deterioration in the situation” in the world’s youngest country during its brutal four-month-long civil war between government and rebel forces.

“The list of alarming statistics is long,” she said. “UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children have been recruited into armed forces by both sides. 32 schools have been taken over by military forces, and there have been more than 20 attacks on clinics and health centres.

“Many women and girls have been raped, often brutally and sometimes by several fighters. Others have been abducted. Children have also been killed during indiscriminate attacks on civilians by both sides.”

Pillay’s visit was prompted by a rebel attack on the South Sudanese oil hub of Bentiu this month that left hundreds dead and a revenge assault by rivals on people sheltering in a UN base.

The UN Security Council has called for an investigation into the killings and is considering sanctions against both sides, one led by President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and the other commanded by his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, a Nuer.

‘Personal power struggle’

“The country’s leaders, instead of seizing their chance to steer their impoverished and war-battered young nation to stability and greater prosperity, have instead embarked on a personal power struggle that has brought their people to the verge of catastrophe,” Pillay told a news conference.

The United Nations has accused rebels loyal to Machar of hunting down and butchering civilians in Bentiu, a strategic prize at the heart of one of South Sudan’s main oil producing areas. Rebels deny the charge.

Pillay said she had also been sent to investigate the killings days later in Bor, another flashpoint town during the more than four months of fighting, where residents in the predominantly Dinka area attacked a UN base where Nuers were sheltering. Dozens were killed.

Pillay, who met Kiir in Juba and Machar at his base in the bush in Upper Nile state during her visit, said the two attacks “have starkly underlined how close South Sudan is to calamity”.

Many thousands have been killed in similar assaults, mostly involving rivals from the Dinka or Nuer killing their opponents. There has been little respite in the killings since fighting first erupted in mid-December, despite a January ceasefire.

Pillay also warned that there was a “real danger” of famine in the country, with the conflict likely to mean this year’s crop planting season is missed “with devastating results on the country’s food supplies”.

“If famine does take hold later in the year – and the humanitarian agencies are deeply fearful that it will – responsibility for it will lie squarely with the country’s leaders who agreed to a cessation of hostilities in January and then failed to observe it themselves, while placing all the blame on each other,” she said.


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