JUBA, — Violence has escalated in South Sudan’s hitherto peaceful Equatoria region as armed groups carry out targeted killings against communities they perceive disloyal to them.

Since renewed fighting in early July in the capital Juba between forces loyal to sacked First Vice President Riek Machar and government troops led by President Salva Kiir, violence has spread to the Equatoria region, which is home to the predominantly Bari-speaking tribes and where the two warring factions are fighting to gain support.

Gunmen have staged a series of ambushes along major roads like the Juba-Nimule road, a 125 km stretch leading to the Ugandan border, and the Juba-Yei road, southwest of the capital Juba, killing a sizable number of people.

Meanwhile, government troops have intensified counter-insurgency operations in the Equatoria region to flash out scattered remnants of forces loyal to Machar.

“There have been killings targeting Dinka community by armed groups,” Deputy Minister of Information Paul Akol Kordit told Xinhua Tuesday, without revealing the number of the casualties.

The war between Kiir, from the Dinka group, and Machar, from Nuer, has split the war-torn country along ethnic lines.

Akol said there had been attacks on the Juba-Nimule road and the Juba-Yei road in the region but major towns like Yei and Morobo are under the control of government troops.

“Armed groups ambush vehicles on the roads and pick out particular groups of people,” Akol said.

“These criminals carrying out these barbaric acts have no control of these areas. I don’t think there is any significant threat to government,” he added.

This has been corroborated by the minister of information in the newly created Yei River state, Stephen Wani Onesimo, who said gunmen targeted certain ethnic communities.

Onesimo also said that people seeking shelter in Yei town were from neighboring areas like Lanya and Lasu where a refugee camp was recently attacked.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) recently said about 100,000 people were “trapped” in Yei due to deteriorating security situation.

The UNHCR said more than 30,000 people fled into Yei, some 150 km southwest of Juba, following deadly attacks in its nearby villages in September.

It said several civilians have been hacked to death, including women, children, and babies, and that uniformed men were said to have detained many young men accused of supporting forces opposed to the government.

“UNHCR and partners are in discussion in Juba to respond to the situation in Yei, including provision of food, household items, medicines, scholastic materials and high energy food for malnourished children and lactating mothers,” Rocco Nurri, a UNHCR spokesman, told Xinhua.

Machar has been replaced as First Vice President by his former chief peace negotiator Taban Deng Gai, who now leads a breakaway faction of Machar’s SPLM/A-IO.

Source: Nam News Network