Renewed fighting in South Sudan is pushing thousands of people across the border into Democratic Republic of Congo, United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said Tuesday.
Clashes between the South Sudanese army and a rebel group, the National Salvation Front, started last month in Yei State and the violence is blocking humanitarian access to the affected areas, the agency said in an emailed statement.
About 5,000 refugees arrived in several remote villages in northeastern Congo, while as many as 8,000 people may be internally displaced.
“They arrived exhausted, hungry and thirsty,” the agency said. Many of them saw “armed men reportedly murdering and raping civilians and looting villages.”
U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch was quoted by Voice Of America as saying the violence has been going down after the latest peace deal aimed at ending the country’s five-year civil war was signed by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar.
“Let us not forget South Sudan has over 70 factions in terms of small groups and rebel groups…and NAS, as far as I understand, is led by Thomas Cirillo. And, we also understand that his group refused to sign the peace agreement,” said the spokesman.
The conflict in South Sudan has left about 400,000 people dead and displaced an estimated four million others since December 2013, and more than halved crude oil production to about 130,000 barrels per day. The East African nation is struggling to bring peace after warring factions agreed to a power-sharing government.
An armed group in the southwestern city of Yambio released 119 children, including 48 girls, bringing the number of young people freed to more than a thousand over the past year, the UN emergency fund for children, Unicef, said in a statement earlier Tuesday.
Amos Desmond Wambi is a Kampala-based multimedia journalist, currently working as the Editorial Manager at East Africa Daily. He has produced serial reports about East African political relations and diplomacy and has written expansively on the region’s nascent oil and gas industry for the past four years.