The U.N. said it had uncovered a mass grave with 34 bodies in South Sudan on Tuesday, as deadly ethnic and political-fueled fighting in the world's youngest country continued into its second week.
Fighting broke out in the capital Juba on Dec. 15 between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, from the majority Dinka tribe, and supporters of ousted former vice president Riek Machar, from the Neur tribe. Both men had been leaders of rival factions in the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which waged a decades long independence struggle against Sudan. Machar is on the run after Kiir accused him of plotting a failed coup.
The U.N. reported that the mass grave was found in Bentiu, in the north of the country. Earlier estimates put the number of dead at 75, but the U.N. later revised the number of victims down to 34. UNHCR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said the victims appeared to be Dinka soldiers from the SPLA.
The U.N. has not confirmed claims of two more sites of mass graves, according to the BBC. A Sudanese man in Juba told AFP that he was one of 12 people to survive after soldiers rounded up 250 people last week, brought them to a police station, and then shot at them. The man reported that they were targeted for being members of the Neur tribe.
Reports have been difficult to corroborate. Foreign journalists have begun arriving in the country, and have begun to complain of government pressure.
One freelancer said:
Fighting has spread to five of the country's 10 states.
The U.N. now says an estimated 81,000 people have been displaced.
An estimated 45,000 people have taken shelter at U.N. mission bases.
At least 500 people were killed in Juba when the fighting first broke out. Amid the current chaos there is no official countrywide death count.
The World Food Program has been distributing food. In addition to the threat of violence, civilians are facing massive shortages in adequate food, healthcare, shelter, water, and sanitation.
Foreigners have been evacuating en masse. Many embassies, including the U.S. embassy, have ordered citizens to evacuate. The U.S. has sent nearly 100 troops to reinforce security at the U.S. embassy in Juba and to help with evacuations.
Many foreigners work in development and business projects in South Sudan, where the economy is largely dependent on aid and oil revenue. Citizens from non-Western countries, however, reported that their evacuations have been treated as lower priority.
On Sunday, President Obama said he "may take further action" to protect Americans in South Sudan. Over the weekend, four U.S. military members in the city of Bor were wounded when their aircraft was fired upon.
The U.N. is expected to discuss further action to stem the fighting. For South Sudanese and those who have worked in the country since its infancy, the latest fighting has been a shocking reminder of how fragile conditions remain.
Former BuzzFeed World Reporter, Current BuzzFeed News Contributor
Contact Miriam Berger at email@example.com.
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