The already alarming news from South Sudan grew even more worrisome Tuesday with word from the United Nations of mass graves.
In a statement, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said “we have discovered a mass grave in Bentiu, in Unity State, and there are reportedly at least two other mass graves in Juba,” the new nation’s capital.
Reuters reports that the site in Unity State contains “some 75 bodies.” According to the BBC, a journalist in Juba “quoted witnesses as saying more than 200 people, mostly from the Nuer ethnic group, were shot by security forces.”
NPR’s Gregory Warner, who is in Juba, said Tuesday on Morning Edition that “people are starting to ask who their neighbors are” and whether they are from a tribe they can trust. There are fears, he said, that if people in the 2 1/2 year old nation “retreat into tribalism … then this country could ignite into civil war.”
Already in recent days, as we’ve reported, there have been hundreds or more people killed and thousands more forced to flee their homes. There’s a power struggle underway between forces loyal to President Salva Kir and those who support the recently ousted vice president, Riak Machar.
An army commander who recently defected and reportedly sides with Machar, Gen. Peter Gadet, has said his forces will “march on Juba” within days, Gregory adds. Whether Gadet has the resources to do that is unknown. Gadet’s forces are believed to have fired on three U.S. military aircraft making evacuation flights earlier this week.
Despite all the bad news, Gregory says there have been some positive signs in the past day as well. President Kir, he notes, has said he’s willing to hold “unconditional talks” with Machar.
Update at noon ET. President Says Current Path Will Lead To Chaos:
Saying that some of those fighting “would like to take power by force of arms,” President Salva Kir on Friday told his people that there are forces “targeting others because of their tribal affiliation” and that the current path “will only lead to one thing, and that is to turn this nation into chaos.”
Kir also said he has “ordered our security forces not to harass civilians or in any other way loot, threaten or abuse them.” Soldiers who are “behind such terrible acts … will not escape the long arm of justice,” he said.
In addition, Kir called on Machar and forces who support the former vice president to “put the interest of our newly independent nation first and to pronounce loudly the commitment to its sound progress and prosperity.”