Rebels in S. Sudan town made women carry looted goods

BOR, South Sudan - Insurgents who for a week occupied the town of Bor, until South Sudan's army wrested it back on Tuesday night, made local women prepare food for them and carry looted goods.

"I was here for the whole week the rebels were in control," 40-year-old mother-of-five Rebecca Acien Kur Diing told AFP, looking weary and nervous.

"The rebels didn't do anything to us but they used to force us to go and collect what they looted at the market and they would also tell us to cook for them," Diing recounted at Bor hospital where she had accompanied an aunt from a nearby village on December 15.

Rebels loyal to South Sudan's deposed former vice president Riek Machar seized Bor on December 16. Troops loyal to President Salva Kiir wrested back the town, now strewn with corpses, on Tuesday night.

"They've been chased away now, but I have no news of my children, my brothers and sisters, my entire family," Diing said while sponging down her aunt who lay on a foam matress.

"I arrived here at the hospital just a day before the rebels took over. Since then I haven't gone home."

As she spoke hundreds of civilians balancing matresses, cooking pots and chairs on motorbikes or bicycles - or just on their heads - streamed back into town, reversing the journey they had made a week earlier.

The conflict erupting in the world's youngest nation has taken on an ethnic dimension, with those loyal to Machar, a Nuer, reportedly targeting Dinka, and those loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, allegedly targeting Nuer.

"When the rebels came they would ask if you are a Dinka or Nuer. And if you are a Dinka - especially a man - they will kill you. But when they came they didn't find many men in the town because most of them had taken off already," said Diing, herself a Dinka.

"This is the first time in my life I have experienced this sort of thing," she went on, recounting how she was born in Khartoum in 1973, only returning home to the south in 2007 when the civil war between northern and southern Sudan was over.

The end of the war paved the way for South Sudan's independence in 2011.

"All we have had to eat is the food we brought with us when we came to the hospital," she said, smoothing the fabric of a grubby African print dress over her knees.

One of the government soldiers who recaptured the town, Philip Deng, complained that he and his fellow troops had been without food ever since they had been brought from the capital Juba.

"I've been without food for four days now," he said looking exhausted, his uniform and boots covered in dust as he surveyed Bor's main market, burned by the rebels, in the vain hope of finding food not rotted by the sweltering heat.

A fetid smell rose from the several corpses left lying in the market, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes. Plumes of smoke were still rising from the charred ruins of the market. A large Kenyan-owned bank had also been razed.

"The situation is bad," said Chan Ogato, the spokesman for Jonglei state, of which Bor is the capital. "People can come out of the UN compound where they were hiding but all goods and services have been destroyed.

"We want the international community to supply all the population with food and basic needs," Ogato told AFP.