'We ran without stopping the whole time. If you stopped, you died. But after running so long your heart is pounding and your legs are lead. Then we had to cross a river. If you couldn't swim, you drowned. Now we are here and look at us. We have nothing. Can you imagine?"
Simon, a young South Sudanese boy, recently shared his story of escape from ethnic violence that broke out five months ago. Since December 15, 500,000 children have been forced from their homes. Like Simon, many of them have taken refuge in camps that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has set up.
Experts say both South Sudan military and rebel soldiers have slain civilians and committed atrocities. They estimate 9,000 Sudanese children have been recruited to become child soldiers. Also, sexual violence against women has surged. Radio broadcasts were used to incite men to rape young girls at gunpoint. In another episode in Bor, armed rebels broke into an Episcopal (Anglican) church, raped and then killed five women pastors who had taken refuge inside the sanctuary.
In total, 10,000 people have died violently since the conflict began. About 1.2 million people have been displaced from their homes. The conflict began as a high-level political dispute, but quickly escalated into a power struggle between Dinka and Nuer, the nation's two largest ethnic groups. They have a history of conflict over grazing land and water rights.
About 10 days ago, South Sudan President Salva Kiir (Dinka) and political rival Riek Machar (Nuer and former vice president) signed a peace agreement as Prebyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic leaders looked on. Violence has declined since the ceasefire took effect. But deadly fighting persists ...