STAND UK’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND UK Education Task Force.
This week’s update focuses on South Sudan and Burma. In South Sudan, the previously peaceful Southern region has been disturbed after a supposed massacre which drove 6,000 people out. In Burma, Suu Kyi continues to deny that ethnic cleaning is occurring in her country.
It has been estimated that in the last week nearly 6,000 people have fled from southern South Sudan into the northern Ugandan region of Lamwo as reports suggest a massacre of civilians by government forces in the town of Pajok. This came in the aftermath of fighting between government and rebel forces in the previously peaceful region. Rocco Nuri, UNHCR spokesman, made the following comments on the situation: “Refugees told the UNHCR team on the ground in Lamwo terrifying stories of violence and abuse against civilians. Many have witnessed their loved ones shot dead or slaughtered like animals.”
The South Sudanese government has also blocked UN authorities from visiting the town to investigate these claims. Peacekeepers have persistently tried, over the course of the last four days, to gain access to the town; however, they have been blocked by the South Sudanese military according the UN’s New York-based spokesperson, Eri Kaneko. Whilst the government does not deny the existence of operations in Pajok, a town of 50,000, they deny the fact that the military targeted civilians, claiming instead that the campaign was designed to flush out suspected guerrilla forces harbored in the region. It is estimated that in the course of the conflict nearly 1.7 million people have fled South Sudan for neighboring Uganda, almost two-thirds of whom are children.
On April 7th, President Kiir also signed a memorandum of agreement with the government of Ethiopia thanking them for their co-operation with the government in Juba and support for the SPLA in the enduring civil war. This came at a time when the economic implications of the continuing civil war are becoming ever-more obvious. Satellite images commissioned by the United Nations show the near-complete desolation of the Yei province. It is estimated that some 18,000 buildings have been destroyed with urban centers such as Morobo and Bazi bearing the bulk of the attack, though in many places this destruction stretches far into the countryside. At present, the imagery gives little indication of who committed the atrocity, both sides in the conflict have been accused of war crimes. Josh Lyons, a satellite analyst working Human Rights Watch, commented that: “It’s only by piecing together both the testimony and imagery that we come to a higher level of understanding of not only what happened but who ultimately is responsible.”
This week Myanmar’s State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied allegations of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in an interview to the BBC. Suu Kyi did not deny however wider problems yet stated that the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the situation and the actions was “too strong”. The government of Myanmar have launched their own internal investigation into crimes within the region of Rakhine. Additionally the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is to head a taskforce in reducing tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities in this area.
Furthermore the popularity of Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy, remains high as they won half of 19 contested seats in by-elections. However there were losses in regions populated by mostly ethnic minorities and were ethnic violence persists. Despite pledges in 2015 to bring peace to these areas and reduce the levels of ethnic violence, ethnic conflicts in Southern states have seen over 160,000 people displaced.
James Dane is part of the STAND UK’s Policy Taskforce and his area of expertise is South Sudan. He is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge where he studies Human, Social and Political Sciences with a focus on the fields of Politics and International Relations.
Sophie Burke is part of the STAND UK’s Education Taskforce and her area of expertise is Burma. She is an undergraduate studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Cambridge and loves to travel.