UN says 82 aid workers killed in South Sudan’s 3-year war

  • To UN hold talks with Syria envoy on Russian issue on Monday

UN says 82 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan’s civil war and the number of its citizens displaced by the fighting now stands at 3.5 million.

Two years after its much celebrated birth as an independent state, South Sudan plunged into conflict in December 2013 as rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his then-vice president, Riek Machar, exploded into violence.

A 2015 peace deal was signed but the terms were never fully respected. Persistent suspicions between Machar and Kiir triggered a fresh bout of fighting in July 2016 and violence has since spread to large areas of the country.

Eugene Owusu, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, said 82 aid workers had been killed in the violence since December 2013.

An estimated 1.9 million people were internally displaced and another 1.6 million were refugees in neighbouring countries.

Much of the violence has been motivated by ethnic differences as government troops, mostly drawn from Kiir’s Dinka community, battle rebel forces made up mainly of Machar’s Nuer community and other smaller groups.

In recent weeks fighting has engulfed towns in South Sudan’s Equatoria region, where fleeing civilians report government troops turning up and embarking on killing sprees, including the slitting of civilians’ throats.

Owusu said other humanitarian workers were being “harassed across the country and humanitarian compounds and supplies have been looted and vandalised”.

Aid supplies had been looted in the Jonglei, Kajo-Keiji, Yei, Wau Shilluk and Mayendit areas in February and March.

Britain has said the scale of killings in South Sudan amount to genocide although the United Nations has yet to make such a determination.

In the meantime, UN mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura is to hold talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov in Geneva on Monday.

De Mistura said and that the U.S., however has declined to take part in any trilateral meeting for now.

He said they will evaluate upcoming discussions in the Kazakh capital Astana aimed at reviving the tattered ceasefire, and prospects for convening talks in Geneva between Syria’s warring sides in May.

“The trilateral meeting, as you know that was a possibility, is being postponed, it is not taking place on Monday.

“It will be a bilateral… But the trilateral is not off the table, it is just being postponed,” he told reporters.

De Mistura, asked about the U.S. administration’s intent to participate, replied: “There is a clearly an intention to maintain and resume these trilateral meetings, and the date and circumstances were not conducive for this to happen on Monday.”

The U.S. carried out an air strike on a Syrian air base earlier this month after a chemical weapons attack that killed scores of people near Idlib on April 4.

Both incidents have raised tensions between Washington and Moscow, the Syrian government’s ally.

“The U.S. welcomes discussions with Russia regarding the UN-led political process on Syria in Geneva, and we have met in the past in the trilateral U.S.-Russia-UN format.

“But at this time there is no new trilateral meeting scheduled,” a U.S. spokesman in Geneva said in an email to Reuters in response to a query.

De Mistura said that his team had just taken part in technical talks in Tehran, in preparation for the Astana talks organised by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

There had been “some type of movement regarding the issue of detainees …and on possible issues related to demining as well,” he said.

All sides have flagged their readiness to allow aid convoys to reach Douma and later other besieged towns in the eastern Ghouta province near Damascus, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said.

“It is very, very urgent that we get to eastern Ghouta.”

Egeland added: “In eastern Ghouta there are nearly 400,000 people that are now besieged, they are in crossfire and they are without supplies.

“They are in a desperate situation.”