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Leaders condemned as South Sudan starves

15 August 2014

MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES

Watery haven: 40,000 people are crowded into a flooded UN compound in Bentiu, South Sudan, their only refuge from widespread armed violence

Watery haven: 40,000 people are crowded into a flooded UN compound in Bentiu, South Sudan, their only refuge from widespread armed violence

THE failure of politicians in South Sudan to end the suffering of their people, currently enduring a severe food crisis, was roundly condemned this week.

"The people of South Sudan are suffering because of the inability of South Sudan's leaders to put their people's interests above their own," the US national security adviser, Susan Rice, said on Tuesday, two days after the deadline for the formation of a transitional power-sharing government was missed. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, described the failure as "an outrage and an insult to the people of South Sudan. Their leaders are letting them down again and again." The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, accused the government and the rebels of refusing to engage seriously in negotiations.

Peace talks have been taking place, on and off, in Ethiopia, for six months, against a backdrop of warnings from aid agencies that famine is looming. A week before the Sunday deadline, Archbishop Desmond Tutu warned that "if South Sudan's leaders fail to reach out to each other and restore peace . . . they will for ever bear the burden of this growing human disaster."

On Friday, the UN Security Council threatened sanctions "against those who take action that undermines the peace, stability, and security of South Sudan, including those who prevent the implementation of these agreements."

Aid agencies are warning that the famine facing the country could be the worst since the Ethiopian famine in 1984. Last month, the UN confirmed that the food situation was "the worst in the world". Almost four million people - a third of the population - are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, and almost one million children aged under five face acute malnutrition.

There are currently almost 100,000 internally displaced persons sheltering in UN camps, which have been affected by severe flooding. On Friday, Médecins Sans Frontières told Reuters that conditions in the camp in Bentiu (above), where refugees are living in knee-deep, sewage-contaminated floodwater, were "an affront to human dignity".

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams has just returned from a visit to Christian Aid's projects in South Sudan. In a report broadcast on Radio 4's Sunday programme last week, he said: "The international community needs to keep up the pressure - intensely - towards reconciliation in the country. We have warring factions who seem to have very little concern for the suffering of the ordinary people of this country."

New report published. A rebel attack on St Andrew's Episcopal Church Compound, Bor, in January, during which 14 women were killed (News, 14 February), is among the massacres described in a new report on South Sudan from Human Rights Watch. The report, published on Friday and based on interviews with more than 400 survivors and witnesses, accuses both the government and opposition forces of "extraordinary acts of cruelty that amount to war crimes". It calls for a comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan, and "targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for serious violations of international law".

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