Fighting in Wau; Red cross calls for civilians to be spared

Fighting erupted this morning in Wau town following sporadic violence over the past two days as well as more organized efforts at forced displacement that began last night. 

Sources told Radio Tamazuj that fighting this morning involved SPLA and an unnamed armed group mainly in the south of the town (Busari entrance) and on Kalbaria side as well as some other areas. Heavy guns have been used including tanks.

Since about midday, however, there has been no more shooting and the situation is calm this afternoon. 

A former state minister told Radio Tamazuj this morning that there were gunshots and people running to UN. “There are clashes ongoing in Wau and people are running to the PoC,” she said.

Opposition groups have been operating in Wau County and on the outskirts of the city have clashed with SPLA earlier this year, but the city itself has never yet come under serious attack. Last week the town of Raja to the west was briefly overrun by an unidentified rebel group. 

A trader in Wau said that the fighting was going on from the direction of the Busari gate and from the direction southwestern neighborhood of Kalbaria, which he said indicated the city was under attack.

Shops of traders in Souk Jou were looted. A Sudanese trader was killed in the street and his motorcycle stolen, he said.

Some other civilians have been killed as well, including a young man yesterday evening and a three year old girl and a woman this morning, a source said. Some civilians say that SPLA soldiers robbed them as they were going to UNMISS for protection.

According to a UN staff in Wau, speaking this morning, more than 1000 civilians sought protection at the UNMISS gate. It was not immediately clear, however, whether UNMISS allowed all who were seeking protection into the base. Several sources said that UNMISS had blocked access to refuge-seekers, while the Red Cross opened its gate. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross says that it is concerned for the safety of the civilian population as well as the immediate humanitarian consequences.

“How many times will South Sudanese civilians be forced to flee battle zones, knowing that if they don’t their lives will be in danger?” said Gregor Mueller, ICRC’s Deputy Head of Delegation for South Sudan.  

“We again ask those involved in the fighting to not target civilians, medical facilities and humanitarian workers. Aid workers must be allowed to work," he added. "People trying to escape hostilities must be allowed to travel unimpeded. These are obligations mandated by International Humanitarian Law."

The latest upheaval will “greatly harm people’s ability to feed and shelter their families” after two-and-a-half years of fighting across the country, ICRC said.

Separately, sources said that the governor of Wau State who was removed last night by decree has been arrested. The governor had differed with army leadership in the state over their decision Thursday to announce a state of emergency.

Related:

Wau governor removed; situation tense (24 June)