Local leaders and witnesses in South Sudan’s restive Yei River state’s say hundreds of civilians were forced to flee their homes after fighting broke out late last week and continued through Monday between SPLA-IO rebels loyal to Riek Machar and a group loyal to former Western Equatoria state governor Joseph Bangasi Bakasoro.
Local officials and witnesses say both parties burned down houses and looted civilians’ property. Villagers who fled Mukaya County took shelter at a primary school in Hai Jezira, two kilometers northeast of Yei town.
Many appeared tired and weak after walking more than nine miles from Mukaya to Yei town. Children could be seen crying on their mothers’ laps.
Mukaya County elder Alfred Lasuba says there was heavy fighting Monday in Lorega Boma.
“We fled here to escape the suffering there. They searched homes and beat up some of the villagers. They looted property, including [taking our] goats. We were forced to stay in the bushes. That’s why we thought it wise to come into the town,” Lasuba told South Sudan in Focus.
Lasuba says hundreds of others, especially women and children, remain stranded in the bush without food or water.
Villager Grace Roba says she and five members of her family walked from Mukaya County in the bush the entire night before reaching Yei County on Tuesday morning. Women are tired of the war, she said, while holding back tears.
“This fighting is causing us a lot of pain, and yet we civilians have nothing to do with it. Life was better during the 21-year-old war with Khartoum than during this current war. While people are expecting peace, the armed groups have started fighting again,” Roba told VOA.
Thomas Bidali also fled to Yei County. He said the rebels burned down his house.
“My home was set on fire and I decided to run. We fled as a group through the bush yesterday until we reached Yei,” Bidali told VOA.
Appeal for help
Internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are appealing to the government and aid agencies for emergency food and water. Peter Butili Parajallha, head of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in Yei River State, says his office has registered up to 300 IDPs who fled Mukaya County.
“There are 67 households with a total population of 307, mostly children, women and old people,” Parajallha said. “They are tired, hungry and walked the whole night without food. We at RRC gave them a bag of rice for the children, with two big tents to shelter in. I am appealing to the NGOs with food and the community to rush with some food to save the lives of the people.”