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Thousands Flee as South Sudan Violence Intensifies


FILE - Some of more than 30,000 people who flocked into Leer town, South Sudan, to receive food from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dec. 15, 2015, which marks the two-year anniversary of South Sudan's civil war.

FILE - Some of more than 30,000 people who flocked into Leer town, South Sudan, to receive food from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dec. 15, 2015, which marks the two-year anniversary of South Sudan's civil war.

The United Nations refugee agency reports thousands of people in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State are fleeing from growing violence and criminality. The outflow adds to the already huge problem of displacement both inside and outside this conflict-ridden country.

The UNHCR calls the violence between armed groups and government forces in Western Equatoria State particularly alarming because the region, until now, has been relatively stable.

South Sudan’s two-year-long civil war has produced one of the world’s largest humanitarian emergencies. More than 2.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including some 650,000 who have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

Besides the localized fighting among warring factions, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says an apparent breakdown of law and order in and near Yambio, some 300 kilometers west of the capital, Juba, also is causing people to uproot themselves.

“Sporadic gunfire has become commonplace," Edwards said. "There has also been an increase in crime involving sexual assaults against women and children and girls, carjackings, attacks on government property, looting of civilian homes reportedly by youth. There was a recent U.N. mission to Yambio that found nearly 200 houses were burnt down in the neighborhood of Ikpiro, which is in the north of the town, and several hundred others were looted. People have taken refuge in the town center, in Yambio, or moved to nearby villages.”

The UNHCR estimates that 15,000 people have become displaced in Western Equatoria State since heavy clashes broke out in the region’s capital early last month.

The agency reports the violence is also causing people to flee across borders. Since the beginning of this week, it says about 500 refugees have been arriving in neighboring Uganda every day -- a quadrupling of recent numbers.

Refugees say they also are fleeing because of a shortage of food, due to failed crops.

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