MANKATO — Refugees from South Sudan, elated at their country’s independence 2 1/2 years ago, are casting worried looks back home as their country shows signs of slipping back into civil war.
Since Dec. 15, ethnic violence has claimed thousands of lives.
“We want the U.S. to put pressure on (President Salva) Kiir to negotiate with his rivals and leave the civilians aside,” said Mankato resident Peter Tuach, who came to America in 2004.
His father and family live in northeast South Sudan in an area called the Upper Nile state.
Tuach said some of his family members, worried about being targeted for their ethnicity, have fled into the bush.
“No water, no food. The situation is dire,” he said.
Tuach said that he and his family, like most refugees in this area, belong to the Nuer ethnic group. The current conflict has ethnic overtones in part because of the July dismissal of Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer man, by President Kiir, a Dinka man.
The president claimed the vice president was organizing a coup, but Tuach sees that explanation as laughable.
Likewise, Mankato resident Chuol Yat primarily blames the government. He suggested the president is more interested in wielding personal power than presiding over a democracy.
“That’s why we fought for many years, to get independent,” said Yat, who has been in America since 2006.
He has a cousin, nephew, uncle and many friends in Juba, the nation’s capital. Some live in the United Nations compound, called UNIMISS. He calls them every day, around 11:30 p.m. if he wants to reach his relatives in the morning on local time.
When South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, there were hopes that its oil would bolster the standard of living.
But Tuach said the oil hasn’t been flowing for nearly two years because of a dispute with Sudan over pipeline prices. South Sudan is landlocked and depends on its northern neighbor to export its oil. Indeed, South Sudan's GDP plunged by 47 percent in 2012, according to the CIA World Factbook.
The country has fewer than 40 miles of paved roads, also from the Factbook. Its median age is just 16, among the lowest in the world, compared to America’s 37.
Both Tuach and Yat are pleading for the fighting to stop, but they both predict that the conflict may get worse.
“The South Sudanese have been at war for many years," Tuach said. "We don’t want to go to war again.”
But it's the targeting of civilians that bothers them the most. A military fight for control of the nation's oil they can understand, but the targeting of innocents seems just monstrous.
"There are still killings by government soldiers, still searching from door to door, still looking for Nuer ethnic groups" linked to the former vice president, Yat said.