Nairobi | At least 25 people were massacred and 120 wounded when gunmen in army uniforms attacked then torched a UN camp that was sheltering civilians in South Sudan last month, the UN said today. The updated toll comes two weeks after the two-day gun battle inside the camp in the northeastern town of Malakal, with a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) detailing the failure of peacekeepers to protect the civilians sheltering at the base.
Over 47,000 people lived in the camp, after fleeing for safety from a civil war that broke out in December 2013. The UN has said the attack was a possible war crime. Reports of troops in government army uniforms storming the camp and firing on civilians were credible, OCHA said, contradicting initial UN claims that the fighting was between tribal youths. About 3,700 families’ shelters were destroyed or damaged during the fighting and fires, along with multiple humanitarian facilities, including clinics, water tankers, nutrition centres and schools, OCHA reported.
Residents say 46 people were killed in the February 17-18 attack, while the UN has now updated to 25 an earlier toll of 18. Those killed include three aid workers, two of them South Sudanese health workers for medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF). One was murdered as he administered care, MSF said. Other people who tried to put out fires or help the wounded were deliberately targeted and shot, said MSF, which treated 46 people for bullet wounds.
Residents say some were burned to death in the deliberate fires that razed sections of the camp, where civilians lived in segregated ethnic plots to dampen tribal tensions. The 47,000 people living in the camp had already suffered through two years of violence and were forced to seek shelter amid inhumane, substandard conditions, MSF said. As a result of this attack, many are now left with nothing. The UN said in December 2014, one year into the conflict, that tens of thousands had been killed, but has been unable to keep a clear toll of the conflict.
We have lost count, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said on Wednesday, when asked how many had died. Since the attack in Malakal, clashes elsewhere in the eastern small town of Pibor on February 21 forced thousands to flee as gunmen looted five aid agency bases, including an MSF clinic. After winning independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan erupted into civil war in December 2013, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.