Dozens of civilians, including a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) worker, have been killed in the ongoing fighting in South Sudan’s Unity state, the medical charity has confirmed.
In a press statement, MSF cited the earlier death of its employee, saying the latest violence broke out on April 4.
“Peter Mathor Tap had been working with MSF in Leer since 2007, initially as Senior Department Supervisor at the former MSF hospital which was destroyed twice during the civil war, once in 2014 and again in 2015. And more recently as Nursing Care Provider in one of MSF’s Community Based Health Care (CBHC) facilities,” MSF said on Wednesday.
Tap was shot and killed on April 10 while he was off duty, MSF said. “As a child, Peter had suffered from polio, which left him with a disability and required him to use a stick to walk. This affected Peter’s ability to run away when the armed aggressors reached the area where he lived.”
Federica Franco, MSF head of mission in South Sudan, said the organisation was shocked and profoundly saddened by the death of their colleague.
“We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. We strongly condemn the indiscriminate violence being carried out by armed groups that have killed and injured many innocent civilians in Leer, including those most vulnerable, such as children, elderly and persons with disabilities,” Franco said.
MSF said that since the latest fighting began, its clinic in Leer had received more than 25 patients with gunshot wounds and several other trauma victims, including survivors of sexual violence.
“With the insecurity resulting in the evacuation of several humanitarian organisations in Leer, the MSF clinic has remained one of the few fully functioning healthcare facilities in the entire county, and the only facility providing advanced emergency care,” the charity said.
It said initial assessments had revealed wide-scale destruction in Adok, Pilleny, Thonyor and Touchria, where an unknown number of people “were killed, homes were set on fire and properties looted”. Thousands of people had been forcibly displaced, including MSF staff, the group said.
It said the displaced were too scared to return home, and as many of them lost all their belongings, they had little to return to.
“Many people have sought refuge in the swamps, where they are at risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhea as well as malaria,” MSF said.
Nyadeng (alias), an elderly female resident of Adok, revealed that the attackers shot at anyone in sight before disappearing into a swamp.
“People were slaughtered, including mothers, youth and young children. When we came out, we found the area was burnt, they took the goats, cattle and also looted property,” she said.
John (alias), a local MSF worker, who was among the people displaced in Leer said, the situation was dire and residents needed more support.
“We hid in the bush for five days. People are staying outside without shelter. They are also suffering because they don’t have food,” he said.
MSF stressed that the violence had impeded vital medical services to the affected communities.
“Of the six CBHC facilities MSF operates in Leer County, three are now non-functional, as one facility was partially destroyed and two others were looted during these latest attacks,” MSF said.
“Despite this, MSF is continuing to ensure people can access much-needed medical care. The MSF clinic in Leer town and the three remaining CBHCs continue to operate. MSF has also begun conducting mobile clinics to the main displacement sites.”
Franco, the MSF head of mission, said there was a high level of atrocities and persistent fear of more attacks.
“Thousands of people displaced are in urgent need of humanitarian aid and medical care. We call on all armed groups to respect international humanitarian law and immediately cease targeting civilians and health facilities,” she said.