At least three mass graves were uncovered in South Sudan in recent days, yet another grim development in the deepening conflict in the country. The graves are the latest evidence of ethnically-motivated killings, which seem to have targeted both factions of the fighting there.
On Tuesday the U.N. announced that it had found a grave filled with at least 75 bodies, believed to be people from the Dinka ethnic group, a number that the organization later revised down to 34 in or near the grave. That makes it likely that the bodies are soldiers from the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which serves as the new country's regular army. South Sudanese president Salva Kiir is Dinka. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added that it has evidence of at least two other possible mass graves in the country. "There is a palpable fear among civilians of both Dinka and Nuer backgrounds that they will be killed on the basis of their ethnicity," Pillay added.
The BBC reports, citing witnesses, that it has evidence of more that 200 ethnic killings in the country, mostly of the rebel-associated Nuer ethnic group. The rebel leader in the conflict is Riek Machar, the former vice president of the country. He was dismissed from his post in July. Previously, Human Rights Watch reported that the South Sudanese army was targeting Nuer citizens during fighting in Juba, the nation's capital:
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that soldiers in Juba sometimes asked individuals about their ethnicity before killing or releasing them, or identified them from facial scarification. A Nuer man told Human Rights Watch that soldiers shot and killed his cousin and two other civilians just outside his home the morning of December 16 in the Misah Sabah neighborhood as he hid under a bed. “I heard them crying when they were killing them,” he said. Another man independently said he had witnessed the shooting of the three men: “When they failed to answer if they were Dinka or Nuer, they were shot.”
There was also some evidence, HRW noted, of rebel soldiers targeting members of the ruling Dinka group.
Kiir announced in Mid-December that a rebel faction led by Machar attempted a failed coup, an account disputed by Machar himself. Although the president was keen on assuring citizens of the world's newest nation that the government had a firm grasp on the nation's security following the alleged incident, deepening violence in the country says otherwise. Rebel troops now control the regions of Bor and oil-rich Bentiu. And it's extremely unlikely that Kiir will agree to Machar's current conditions for negotiations. At least 500 people have died in South Sudan during the conflict, according to the official death toll from the South Sudanese government. But the actual number of deaths is almost certainly higher, according to most aid groups working in the country.
The U.N. estimates that 62,000 South Sudanese citizens have been displaced by growing violence in the country. About 40,000 of them have fled to U.N. bases located in the nation. The U.N. currently has 6,800 peacekeeping troops located in the country and Secretary General Ban ki Moon would like to bring in 5,500 more. A resolution allowing that to happen could pass the U.N. Security Council as early as today. The U.S. also has 150 Marines ready to enter the country, if they are needed to protect the approximately 100 American citizens still there.