South Sudan: A year of war in a divided nation

South Sudan: A year of war in a divided nation

JUBA - They came only for a night: thousands fleeing gunshots in the darkness for the safety of UN peacekeeping bases in South Sudan's capital Juba.

In the following days, gunfire and explosions continued to shake the city, as troops loyal to President Salva Kiir fought with those allied to his ousted deputy, Riek Machar, and terrified residents cowered where they could find shelter.

One year later and with civil war still raging, some 100,000 civilians remain trapped inside the UN camps ringed with barbed wire, surviving off food aid handouts in miserable conditions, but still too terrified to venture out for fear of being killed.

"How can we go out when there is no peace?" asked Veronica Henry, a woman in her fifties living in a crowded UN-guarded camp in Juba, where thousands live crammed into streets of makeshift plastic tents.

Many are gloomy about the prospects of the violence ending any time soon. South Sudan is locked into conflict, with the bloodshed in Juba having set off a cycle of retaliatory killings across swathes of the country.

"We've been one year here, but we are alive," said Thong Gai, sitting outside his plastic tent home under the blazing hot sun in the UN camp in Juba.

Half the country's 12 million people need aid, the UN says, including nearly two million people who fled their homes from the fighting.

"It is tough living here but there is nothing we can do, nothing to do," said Gai, who entered the camp as fighting broke out on December 15 last year. "We just have to be patient, and we shall have peace one day."

'Battle against famine'

Amid the continued threat of international sanctions, warring forces have signed repeated ceasefire deals, but all collapsed within days.

"I am begging the international community, please, you have to pressure the government and the opposition," Henry said.

Her optimism at South Sudan's independence in 2011 - after people voted overwhelmingly to split from north Sudan following decades of war - has long faded.

"We have struggled for so long in this country," she said grimly.

Aid workers describe a desperate situation, with Oxfam country chief Zlatko Gegic warning that millions are going "hungry in a man-made disaster".

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