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Thousands Flee South Sudan as Conflict Shows no Signs of Abating

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 7 2014 (IPS) - The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported Tuesday that over 31,000 South Sudanese have fled the country since armed conflict broke out more than three weeks ago.

In Uganda, UN officials have been hard pressed to provide for more than 23,000 South Sudanese who’ve officially registered there.  “They are now crossing at a rate of up to 2,500 people a day,” said UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming.

Fleming said officials in Uganda were already struggling to provide services and shelter to refugees flowing in from the Congo. “We still have 8,000 new Congolese arrivals at three reception centres in western Uganda. So, our staff and our supplies are stretched.”

Elsewhere, UNHCR reported more than 5,300 refugees in Ethiopia and at least 3,100 in one Kenyan camp alone. Within South Sudan, UNHCR has “also been taking on increased responsibilities for the 57,000 civilians taking refuge in 10 UN compounds throughout the country,” said Fleming.

The Secretary General’s spokesperson told reporters several explosions had been heard early Tuesday around Bor, where government troops were attempting to retake the city from forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar.

UNMISS camps in Bor are currently protecting more than 30,000 refugees from the conflict.

In July, Machar was sacked by President Salva Kiir in a move widely acknowledged as power grab by the Kiir. Tensions simmered until violence finally broke out on December 15 between Nuer and Dinka factions of the national army in the capital.

Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused Machar, a Nuer, of masterminding a coup plot. Machar denied those claims but fled the capital to lead rebel forces made up of defected SPLA troops and local militias.

The UN estimates the fighting has claimed the lives of over 1,000, though the true number will likely prove much higher.

A source inside an UNMISS camp in Bor told Radio Tamazuj that several youths, believed to be part of the Nuer “white army” which took the city, had entered the compounds on humanitarian grounds. The men have put other residents of the camp – made up mostly of women – on edge.

A spokesperson for Machar told Radio France International that Ugandan troops equipped with helicopters had joined government forces, around Bor and had bombed the city in recent days.

“(Ugandan Presidemt Yoweri) Museveni has already involved himself, he’s not neutral anymore,” said Moses Ruai Lat.

Museveni had earlier threatened to unleash the Ugandan army on rebel forces if Machar doesn’t agree to lay down arms. “He’s supposed to be impartial, instead of involving himself deeply,” said Lat.

Despite reports of gunfire in Juba, the capital remained firmly under government control. Regional mediators have been meeting in Addis Ababa, attempting to broker a cease-fire between representatives of Kiir and Machar.

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