January 14, 2014
Many South Sudanese have been fleeing the conflict by boats across the Nile
More than 200 civilians in South Sudan have drowned in a Nile ferry accident while fleeing fighting in the town of Malakal, an army spokesman has said.
He said women and children were among the victims in Sunday’s disaster.
More than 350,000 people have been displaced by the fighting between the South Sudanese government and rebel forces, according to the UN.
Malakal is the gateway to the oilfields of the Upper Nile region. Rebels have advanced on the town in recent days.
“The reports we have are of between 200 to 300 people, including women and children. The boat was overloaded,” army spokesman Philip Aguer told the AFP news agency.
Malakal lies on the bank of the River Nile
“They all drowned. They were fleeing the fighting that broke out again in Malakal,” he added.
Malakal is located on the banks of the White Nile – just north of its confluence with the Sobat River.
Thousands of civilians have been trying to escape the fighting by crossing the river, but many say they simply cannot afford to pay for a boat, says the BBC’s Andrew Harding in South Sudan.
One refugee, Akuch, told our correspondent that she had had to borrow as much as 150 Sudanese pounds (£40; $66) to cross the river.
Some 9,000 civilians have recently arrived at a UN base in Malakal, almost doubling the number of people seeking shelter there, our correspondent says.
Some 19,000 people are now seeking shelter at a UN base in Malakal
Government troops are said to be advancing on the rebel-held town of Bor
On Tuesday, heavy fighting was reported in and around the government-held town of Malakal, amid reports that rebels were closing in. Malakal has already changed hands several times since the conflict began last month.
In the south, government troops are believed to be advancing on Bor – the only major town held by the rebels.
Meanwhile, talks aimed at securing a ceasefire in South Sudan are currently taking place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
The negotiations are being overseen by the East African regional bloc, Igad.
The violence erupted on 15 December between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and soldiers backing Riek Machar, his former vice-president.
President Kiir is a member of South Sudan’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka, while Mr Machar is from the Nuer community – the country’s second largest.
The conflict has seen reports of mass killings along ethnic lines even though both men have prominent supporters among their rival’s community.
The UN estimates that more than 1,000 people have died since the conflict began on 15 December.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after a long and bloody conflict, to become the world’s newest state.
Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians’ political bases are often ethnic.
Sudan’s arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan’s budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state – at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s newest country – and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water – up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan – however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight – this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).