The situation in South Sudan continues to plunge further into chaos, as President Salva Kiir fired his army chief, rebels closed in on major oil producing regions, and the US and France pressed for sanctions on the struggling nation. Human Rights Watch (HRW) also warned that ethnic killings are "spiraling out of control."
Violence in the country has been ongoing since December, when President Kiir accused Vice President Riek Machar of trying to remove him from office. Machar rallied rebel forces that have clashed frequently with government troops. Since then, thousands of people have been killed and over a million have been displaced.
The conflict has increasingly taken on an ethnic tinge, as Machar is a member of the Nuer tribe and President Kiir is Dinka. Animosity between the two groups has worsened since the fighting broke out. The general fired by Kiir, James Hoth Mai, is also Nuer, provoking fear that Nuer members of the government will further be removed.
HRW called on the United Nations Security Council to take action as horrific photos of massacres in the town of Bentiu emerged this week, with tens of bodies strewn on the ground and being moved by bulldozers.
The UN said that hundreds of civilians were killed as rebel forces loyal to Machar seized the area in the north of the country and hunted down civilians based on their ethnicity.
Machar denied the accusations, but today rebel spokesman Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang said that the government's military effort was falling apart and warned of an “imminent bloodbath, escalation, and regionalization of the conflict.”
Talking to AFP, Government army spokesperson Philip Aguer denied the rebel claims and, regarding the promise of a rebel attack on the town of Bor, proclaimed “let them come.”
'We need some soul-searching about what the UN should do in South Sudan.'
Additionally, 50 civilians seeking refuge at a UN base in Bor were killed by unidentified armed men pretending to be peaceful protesters on April 17. Earlier, the armed men had demanded that the UN force all members of the Nuer tribe to leave the base. The attack is said to be revenge for the killings in Bentiu.
“The killing of more than 50 people in a UN base in Bor and the gruesome massacres of hundreds of civilians in Bentiu shows that ethnically motivated brutality against civilians is spiraling out of control,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“Unless they are held accountable for their crimes, the ethnic violence will continue to engulf this young country, with UN peacekeepers left to pick up the pieces.”
Meanwhile, diplomats in the US and France have urged for action on South Sudan. US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power took to Twitter to call the latest atrocities a “turning point” and to echo calls for sanctions.
Gerard Araud, France’s representative to the UN, called the situation “horrendous." “We need some soul-searching about what the UN should do in South Sudan,” he told reporters before a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.