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عربي

Suspicion and fear overshadow Juba

Esther Muwombi
When South Sudan’s conflict flared up in December 2013, politicians and the media were quick to exploit ethnic tensions, triggering suspicion and fear in the capital Juba.
6.02.2014  |  Nairobi
UNMISS soldiers guarding Bor airport in Jonglei State, December 28, 2013.
UNMISS soldiers guarding Bor airport in Jonglei State, December 28, 2013.

The South Sudanese are known for taking time to chat and greet each other but since the outbreak of violence, killing up to 10,000 in more than a month, relations have soured.

I fear sitting next to a Nuer or Dinka. You never know when they will get attacked,” said Charity Lopita, a community based NGO worker in Juba.

These days, on the streets of Juba, there are few people from the Nuer ethnicity. They are fearful of reprisals because they are from the tribe of the rebel and former Vice President Riek Machar and the white army, a notorious youth militia.

Since the militia men are from the same group -- the SPLM --
and dress in the
same uniform, you do not know who is a rebel.”
Janet Emilo
Janet Emilo, who works as a cleaner at the Bureau of statistics in Juba, explained her constant fear. Since the militia men are from the same group -- the SPLM -- and dress in the same uniform, you do not know who is a rebel,” she said.

The fighting spread to the refugee camps, where the two tribes fight one another. In Kilyadong, a refugee camp in Northern Uganda, the Nuer and Dinka tribes had to be separated by police and warned that they could be deported back to South Sudan. The fighting stopped, but tensions continue.

And uncertainty remains amid ongoing fears of fresh violence. One police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of the rebels: We suspect that they had hidden in other Juba suburbs with the aim to capture Juba.”

Residents were acutely aware of this threat. Mary Deng, who lives in Atlabara, spoke of a group of rebels allegedly found hiding in a police post. We just didn’t know what these rebels were up to. What if they had come to massacre us the Dinka? I really feel unsafe.”

Like many aspects of the conflict underway in South Sudan, this point could not be immediately confirmed.

Meanwhile, ethnic divisions, which had been sidelined following South Sudanese independence, resurged overnight, separating neighbours and colleagues alike.

Emmanuel Sammuel, a worker at the bureau of statistics told The Niles how his boss, a Nuer, escaped the fighting. Our Director has visible Nuer lines on his face and this made him a very big target when the fighting broke out. He ran to the UN camp and he only managed to get out with police escorts. We had to deliver his salary to him in the camp and organise national security escorts to drive him out to Uganda.”

I must be sure that there is enough security out there.”
Paul Makiu
Paul Makiu, a 20-year-old Nuer boy, was also forced to flee. He said he doesn’t expect an end to the tension in the near future. I have been hiding in the camp since we were attacked at our home in Jebel, a day after the fighting began. I can’t move out of here. I must be sure that there is enough security out there.”

Makuei said his four sisters, two brothers and father were attacked with machetes in their home in Jebel, a day after the fighting began. He received several machete cuts on his back but managed to escape. He still doesn’t know where the rest of his family fled to -- or whether they made it alive.

Ugandans living in Juba don’t feel safe either. The involvement of their country’s army UPDF in the fighting in South Sudan, joining the government forces against the rebels, has made them vulnerable.

Shania Wotuna, a bar owner, said she is worried about who visits her bar. I would rather host Dinka because Nuer are the targets. I fear that if they drink in my bar, they might get attacked anytime and I too might die.”