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Fresh fighting in S. Sudan forces Sudanese to flee their homes

JUBA, Fresh fighting in previously peaceful areas of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state has forced thousands of people to flee into countries including Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda and even the volatile Central African Republic.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said on Friday the new arrivals, mainly women and children tell of human rights abuses, including killings, rape and forced recruitment.

"We hope to gain access next week to an estimated 7,000 South Sudanese refugees living in desperate conditions in Bambouti, which is located in a difficult area to reach in the easternmost part of Central African Republic," UNHCR said in a statement.

It said a four-truck convoy carrying UNHCR and World Food Programme (WFP) humanitarian aid, is scheduled to leave Bangui on Saturday for Bambouti and arrive there on March 21.

"An inter-agency needs assessment team will follow on Monday, travelling by plane and helicopter. They will carry some emergency relief items, including medicine and nutritional biscuits," it said.

According to UNHCR, more than 14,000 South Sudanese refugees, the vast majority of whom are women and children under the age of 18, have been registered since the start of the year in Uganda.

"Many of the new arrivals are fleeing from Western Equatoria, often having walked for days, and are tired and hungry. Arrival figures are up on late 2015," the UN refugee agency said.

The new fighting in Western Equatoria has since late 2015 also forced more than 11,000 people to cross into Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Fighting first erupted in Juba in December 2013, pitting the government forces of President Salva Kiir against supporters of ex-vice-president Riek Machar.

The conflict has reopened deep ethnic tensions in the world’s youngest country, which only won independence from Sudan in 2011.

Peace talks between Kiir and Machar stalled several times but the two leaders eventually signed peace agreement in August last year, paving way for the formation of government of national unity.

Previous truce agreements have since collapsed with multiple peace processes and initiatives having created little tangible progress.

The two-year conflict in South Sudan has taken a brutal and deadly toll on civilians. Recently, fighting has spread to new areas, including in Wau and Mundri, and there continue to be reports of people being raped and killed, and of homes and crops being destroyed and damaged by fighting.

By Robert Muriisa.

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