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19 Dec 2014 00:00
People hold candles during an evening of remembrance to mark one year since the start of the recent conflict in South Sudan. (AFP)
Acwil Nyago Arop (5), Benjamin Dhieu (42) and Nyajang Nyidhok Odok (105). These are among the names on a list of the dead released on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the civil war in South Sudan.
There is no official death toll in the world’s youngest country where tens of thousands of people are believed to have perished in the past year.
A group of civil society volunteers has spent months collecting and verifying names of the victims to give the tragedy a human face.
Anyieth D’Awol, organiser of the Naming Those We Lost project, told Agence France-Presse: “This list, although a fraction of the total loss, reflects the devastating human impact of South Sudan’s yearlong war in which no one has been officially counting the dead.
“Peace remains elusive, mass graves dot the landscape with civilians, both young and old, bearing the brunt of the fighting.”
The majority named were civilians, and most of those were young people.
“As time continues to pass, the list of names will inevitably grow into a true reflection of the colossal loss of life that the people of South Sudan have once again suffered,” D’Awol said.
Estimates of the numbers killed in South Sudan are notoriously vague. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said this week that “tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed”. The International Crisis Group estimates that at least 50 000 people have died, but some analysts believe it could be twice that figure.
Gunfire erupted between different factions of the army on the evening of December 15 last year. President Salva Kiir accused his deputy, Riek Machar, of trying to stage a coup. Violence continued across the capital, Juba, and swept through the country, exacerbating ethnic tensions and setting Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer.
An estimated 12 000 child soldiers were forcibly recruited.
A country born with great optimism in 2011 is now in despair.
Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam and Save the Children said in a joint statement: “This conflict has devastated South Sudan. Forces have killed thousands of people including men, women, and children targeted and killed purposefully because of their ethnic background, in gruesome massacres, or shot in their homes, in hospitals or churches, trying to hide or flee.
“Entire towns have been pillaged, entire towns burned, and swaths of rural areas now lie abandoned. An estimated two million people have run from their homes. Markets, homes, restaurants, bars, schools, clinics – the products of millions of people determined to build a country – lie destroyed.”
Memorial services and candlelit vigils were held in Juba on Monday, with the names of the dead broadcast on radio.
But state troops and armed youths have been fighting in the state of Upper Nile in recent days, a sign that widespread violence could return now that the rainy season is over.
Although famine has been averted thanks to a massive aid effort, Oxfam warns that the country remains in a severe food crisis with up to 2.5-million people estimated to be at risk of hunger.
Zlatko Gegic, the charity’s country director, said: “The situation is on a knife edge. The relative peace of the rainy season is over, and fighting could escalate at any time, forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes for their own safety.
“Harvesting and transporting food will become impossible, and millions of people will go hungry,” Gegic said. “We have to act now to avert it.” – © Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2014
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