There are growing concerns of a genocide in South Sudan forcing the United Nations to consider imposing an arms embargo and sanctions to reduce the capacity of the warring factions.
The affected region is Yei in Central Equatoria, where fighting has intensified between government forces and rebels, with humanitarian agencies reporting that close to 4,000 ethnic militia known as Matiang Anyor have been deployed to prepare for offensive.
Yei in the last one month, has experienced targeted killings, rape and burning of houses, leaving thousands of families displaced.
Some countries like Japan, China and Bangladesh have deployed additional peacekeepers to protect the population while President Salva Kiir’s government maintains that the military build-up in Yei is to dislodge rebels who are attacking the public.
The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, has warned that the conflict could evolve into a genocide if nothing is done urgently to stop it. A UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan recently reported ethnic cleansing in several parts of the country. The attacks have left people homeless while others have been murdered.
Mr Dieng warned that the conflict has transformed into what could become tribal clashes. He added that there have been reports of sexual violence as more than 1,900 homes have been destroyed in Central Equatoria since September.
However, South Sudan deputy ambassador to Kenya Jimmy Deng told The EastAfrican that the reports have not been verified and accused the UN of releasing biased reports to justify arms embargo and targeted sanctions.
“The UN investigators sit in Juba and assume that there are ethnic cleansing across the country without going to the ground. The government is simply trying to get rid of the remnants of rebels in Central Equatoria, who remained in the region when Dr Riek Machar crossed into Congo in August,” said Mr Deng.
The United States State Department deputy spokesperson, Mark Toner, said that Washington is concerned that the violence in the Equatoria could quickly spiral out of control.
“The international community must also do its part and we can impose an arms embargo to end the parties’ ability to acquire and maintain weapons, especially heavy weapons, military vehicles, and aircraft. We should also impose targeted sanctions on those who seek through incitement and violence to turn their country into a graveyard,” said Mr Toner.
Tension has been building up in the three Equatorias — Central, West and East — since fresh fighting broke out in July as various ethnic militias defend themselves against what they term increased government repression.
Humanitarian agencies and UN investigators have accused the South Sudan government of deploying at least 4,000 ethnic militia in Central Equatoria to carry out attacks.
Ruth Feeney, senior communications officer at the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) responsible for monitoring the ceasefire, said that they were denied freedom of movement while trying to reach Yei to conduct an assessment of the area.
“The CTSAMM would like to reiterate that it has a legal right to be present in South Sudan as stipulated in Chapter II of the peace agreement, and condemns the denial of freedom of movement. We are calling on the Transitional Government of National Unity to intervene in this issue to ensure the CTSAMM can visit Yei to conduct its mission,” said Ms Feeney.