(Xinhua/GNA) — As violent battles continue between government forces and rebels in South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states, civilians there face mounting threats of physical abuses and hunger, according to United Nations agencies.
Since violence erupted in South Sudan in 2013, the warring parties have committed many violations against civilians, including killing, arson, rape, and forcible recruitment of child soldiers, according to recent UN and regional organizations reports.
“Military operations in Unity and Upper Nile states over the past three days in particular have again devastated countless lives,” United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Toby Lanzer said in a statement on Monday.
He called on all commanding officers to ensure that their combatants protect and respect civilians, including national and international aid workers and their property.
The latest fighting left over 650,000 civilians without access to aid. Thousands of homes had been burned in Unity State, Lanzer said.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), for its part, said in a statement that dozens of children have been abducted, raped and killed while others were recruited in Unity State over the last two weeks.
The UNICEF said survivors described to its staff how entire villages were burned to the ground by armed groups, while large numbers of girls and women were allegedly taken outside to be raped and killed, including children as young as seven.
The rising violence in South Sudan coincides with the beginning of the cultivation season, which threatens of a food crisis in the long run, pushing the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to warn of a food shortage as thousands of farmers flee from the heavy fighting.
“The latest uprooting of the civilian population have occurred in the towns of Leer in Unity State and in Kodok in Upper Nile State,” the ICRC said in a statement, expressing fear that the hostilities could sever escape routes used by civilians.
“The upheaval will no doubt negatively impact residents’ ability to plant crops that would be used to feed their families in the next harvest season,” it noted.
Because of safety concerns, the ICRC was forced to put regular activities on hold and reduce its staff in Leer, the site of one of the organization’s largest food distribution in the world.
“Prolonged displacement exposes people to suffering. We fear that the situation of some 100,000 people in Leer, who are now hiding in unimaginably difficult conditions, will worsen day by day,” said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in South Sudan.
The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), meanwhile, said in a statement on Friday that it was extremely dismayed at credible reports of acts of violence targeting civilians, grave human rights abuses and destruction of villages in South Sudan.
The IGAD accused government forces of conducting full-scale military offensive against opposition forces in Rubkona, Mayom, Guit, Koch and Mayendit counties in Unity State since April 27, 2015.
UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said the recent clashes in Unity State have been the worst among a series of confrontations between government forces and rebels.
South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, plunged into turmoil in December 2013, when fighting erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and defectors led by his former deputy Riek Machar.
The conflict soon turned into an all-out war, with violence taking on an ethnic dimension that pitted the president’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer ethnic group.
The clashes have left thousands of South Sudanese dead and forced around 1.9 million people to flee their homes.