JUBA, Sudan, May 18 (Reuters) - The south Sudan government has begun forced evictions of roughly 4,000 to 5,000 families who are squatting on government land in the southern capital of Juba, a government official said on Friday.
State Minister for Housing and Lands Alikaya Aligo Samson said the evictions, backed by soldiers, had begun this week but did not say how many people had been evicted so far.
Juba has experienced a population surge, driven by a flood of returning refugees, since a 2005 peace deal granted semi-autonomous status to south Sudan and ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
That has produced a severe housing crunch in Juba, which is surrounded by known and suspected minefields, leading many returnees to turn to squatting.
"They are all over the place ... occupying public places, schools, government building premises. Some of them are even in ministries," said Samson, who is coordinating a 90-day push to clear squatters.
He told Reuters the evictions would target residents who turned to squatting during the civil war as well as newcomers, and that the squatters include government and army officials and civil servants.
"They cannot defend it, some of them are thinking that they can use their position in government," he said. "But it is clear -- everybody must move."
Samson estimated that some 20 to 25 percent of property in Juba, previously a northern-controlled garrison town, had been taken by squatters, much of that by people in positions of power who were squatting on prime land.
The government earmarked 20,000 new plots at the end of 2005 to deal with the expected influx of people to the capital, although it has encountered resistance from tribal communities who do not want to release the land.
Samson said those evicted would get alternative plots. But the bulk of those relocated will be sent to empty land on the less-developed side of the river Nile. No transport or cash compensation will be provided for those being relocated.
Samson said the housing crunch was exacerbated because many families who said during a survey done by the new government in 2005 that they wanted to return to rural areas had changed their minds and settled in Juba.
"If we conducted another survey now we would find half of them have already got new jobs here and are doing business. Their lifestyle has changed," he said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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