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Marial Simon, one of 17,000 desperate souls crowding into the dusty United Nations Tomping compound in Juba, was still in shock from what he had seen on December 15. “That was the night of the killing,” said the Nuer schoolboy, slight for his age, as he clutched nervously at the filthy clothes he has been wearing for weeks.“The shooting went on and on, and the killing began and it did not stop. I was there. I saw it happen.”
Violence erupted in South Sudan on December 15 after members of the Dinka tribe in President Salva Kiir’s presidential guards in Juba tried to disarm their Nuer colleagues.
Many of former vice president Riek Machar’s supporters are believed to be Nuer, his own tribal group.There is a historic enmity between the two groups.
“[The incident] caused [the Dinkas] to panic and go out on a rampage,” said a Western diplomat. “They went after anyone who had allegiance to Riek Machar. Now it’s unclear whether the people who were targeted will take revenge.”
The two communities, Nuer and Dinka, are the largest in the world’s youngest country.
Two years before, in a much-hailed event, after a four-decade-long war that left more than a million people dead, South Sudan celebrated its independence from Sudan. It was, briefly, a time of hope. But by then people seemed too exhausted, too traumatized and too shattered to celebrate their new country.
Post-independence corruption was rife. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the national army meant to be a symbol of the new nation’s multiethnicity, was splintered. And there was lingering ethnic hatred.
“On the upper level, there were too many Dinkas,” says the Western diplomat. “And on the lower, too many Nuers.”