South Sudan Forces Purged Villages in Oil Region, Group SaysBy
Offensive in Upper Nile this year forced thousands to flee
Amnesty describes mass displacement of ethnic community
South Sudan government forces drove tens of thousands of civilians out of villages in the country’s oil-rich northeast, Amnesty International said, in the latest allegations of atrocities in the more than three-year civil war.
An offensive in the country’s Upper Nile region between January and May forced members of the Shilluk ethnic group to flee, entirely depopulating some towns and villages, the London-based advocacy group said Wednesday. Witnesses cited by Amnesty said government troops and allied militias stole everything from food supplies to furniture and then burned homes, while “several” civilians were killed by gunshot or in the fires.
“Even considering South Sudan’s history of ethnic hostility, the mass displacement of the Shilluk ethnic minority, almost in its entirety, is truly shocking,” Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, Joanne Mariner, said. Deputy army spokesman Santo Domic said the report was untrue.
The conflict in the world’s newest nation has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than 3.5 million people from their homes since it erupted in December 2013, with both government forces and rebels accused of atrocities. The Upper Nile region, which has seen much of the fighting, is the location of South Sudan’s only operational oil field.
Amnesty, which interviewed 79 victims and eyewitnesses, said some of the killings were “clearly deliberate” and involved civilians shot while captive or attempting to flee. Indiscriminate shelling, targeted burning and a bombing by an Antonov airplane destroyed homes, according to the group.
Army spokesman Domic said by text message that it was “impossible” for South Sudanese troops to kill civilians or force them to flee, but if there were “some isolated cases” it would investigate. “Individuals that are committing some form of crimes do not represent” the army and its doctrine, he said.
While some of the Shilluk population have returned home, the majority haven’t, with many fleeing north for refuge in neighboring Sudan, Amnesty said. About 10,000 others are living in a temporary camp in Aburoc village, near the border, that’s experienced cases of cholera.
Although South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil reserves, according to BP Plc data, it’s only producing about 130,000 barrels a day because of the conflict. Authorities say they’re seeking to restore facilities and raise output to 350,000 barrels a day by mid-2018.