More than 16,000 people have been caught in a reign of terror as the battle for South Sudan’s oil rich region of Unity State intensifies. Concern Worldwide’s emergency programme manager, Tom Dobbin, witnessed firsthand the battle that took place between government and opposition forces to take control of Bentiu. We are trying to help the people caught up in the violence.
Over the past four months, control of Bentiu has ping-ponged between the government and opposition forces vying for control. Rumours were rife that clashes by opposition forces were imminent and on Tuesday, 15 April, it happened. The start was signalled by the hollow sound of an anti-aircraft gun being fired in front of a pro-government base. Then, an emergency siren sent everyone to the bomb shelter.
Opposition forces surrounded Bentiu and the adjacent town of Rubkona. The combat continued for most of the day, when opposition forces appeared to carry out small operations to remove pockets of resistance that still remained. By late afternoon, the commanders of the opposition had moved into Bentiu to consolidate their position.
We had planned to implement distributions as part of our shelter programme on the same day that opposition forces began surrounding the capital. That assistance, which aimed to reach the 6,000 people is now on hold.
The number of people seeking refuge has sky-rocketed over the past few days because of the clashes and signs of a looming counter attack by government forces. An additional 16,000 people are now in desperate need of assistance.
Our immediate priority is to provide aid to people who are displaced from their homes. We are delivering treated water and water purification tablets as well as building emergency latrines for thousands of people. We plan to continue providing a lifeline for those caught in the crossfire until our assistance is no longer needed.