Africa

'Atmosphere of fear' in South Sudan town of Bor, says UN

Civilians seek refuge in UN compound in Bor - 18 December
Image caption More than 15,000 people are already at the UN compound in Bor

A UN official in South Sudan has spoken of an atmosphere of fear and desperation as violence escalates.

Humanitarian Co-ordinator Toby Lanzer told the BBC about summary executions in Bor, in the restive state of Jonglei that has fallen to rebels.

The UN mission in South Sudan has urged rival political leaders to agree a truce and open negotiations.

Clashes broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and others backing his former deputy a week ago.

Mr Lanzer says people are clamouring to get into the UN compound in Bor as the violence escalates.

"When I ended up moving to the airport [Sunday] evening, we saw some of the most horrible things that one can imagine.

"People who were being lined up and executed in a summary fashion. This is done by people who are simply out of control," Mr Lanzer told Newshour.

Meanwhile the US said it had evacuated its citizens from Bor.

Four US service personnel were wounded on Saturday when their aircraft were shot at, delaying an evacuation operation.

US President Barack Obama said he may "take consider further action to support the security of US citizens, personnel and property, including our embassy, in South Sudan".

Earlier the South Sudanese army confirmed that Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity State, had also fallen to troops supporting former Vice-President Riek Machar.

President Salva Kiir has accused Mr Machar of attempting a coup.

'Hundreds of thousands'

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Media captionHumanitarian aid co-ordinator Toby Lanzer: "There were a lot of gunshots and a lot of dead bodies"

Mr Lanzer, who spent several days in Bor, said the problem of people seeking refuge was growing daily.

"I'm quite concerned that in a few days' time we won't be talking about tens of thousands, we'll be talking about hundreds of thousands directly affected," he said.

"It's really very moving to see people just asking: 'Can you please keep me alive?'"

Mr Lanzer added that there was a danger not just from fighting by conventional armies but from groups of youths who he said were simply "out of control".

The government says it is trying to retake Bor, and the state has seen fierce fighting in recent days.

Two Indian peacekeepers and at least 11 civilians were killed in an attack on a UN compound in Akobo, Jonglei, on Thursday.

Joseph Contreras, acting UN spokesperson in Juba, told the BBC he had two messages for South Sudan's political leaders.

"One is to call upon all the political leaders to desist from further violence, to heed the African Union call to observe a holiday season truce, open a channel of dialogue and sit down to negotiate their differences peacefully.

"Our other message is that we at the United Nations are here to stay."

UN relocation

On Saturday Mr Machar said his forces controlled Unity State - whose oilfields are crucial to South Sudan's economy.

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Media captionToby Lanzer of the UN : "We know of people who have been executed not far from our base"

Those reports could not be independently confirmed.

However, on Sunday Col Aguer told reporters: "Bentiu is in the hands of a commander who has declared support for Machar."

He added that the number of people or wounded in the fighting was unclear.

Unity, a state on the border with Sudan, produces much of South Sudan's oil, which accounts for more than 95% of the country's economy.

Also on Sunday, the UN mission Unmiss said it had begun relocating staff from the capital Juba to the Ugandan city of Entebbe.

Juba has been tense since the unrest began last weekend.

Resident Mogga Lado told the BBC: "I was buying some things for my children in the market on Tuesday when I saw two people dressed in normal civilian clothes shot dead in front of me by people in military clothing.

"I don't know if they were the army or rebels. I didn't wait to see."

Mr Machar told the BBC on Saturday that he was prepared to negotiate with the government if politicians arrested this week were released and transferred to a neutral country such as Ethiopia.

Mr Kiir also agreed to negotiations after meeting African mediators on Friday.

President Kiir, a member of the majority Dinka ethnic group, sacked Mr Machar, who is from the Nuer community, in July.

The violence which broke out in Juba last weekend has since spread, pitting gangs of Nuer and Dinka against each other.

Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight - this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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