South Sudan's Political Rift Leads To Violent Deaths
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.
This is a sound you might not expect to hear in a nation being torn up by violence.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
GREENE: These are worshippers at a church in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. That young country, which gained its independence in 2011, has been the scene of tribal massacres killing at least a thousand people and uprooting many more. It all started with a power struggle between the president and former vice president. Now the United Nations is flying in more peacekeepers and trying to broker negotiations.
NPR's Gregory Warner is in South Sudan. We reached him a short while ago.
And so, Gregory, we should say this. This is Christmas. This is a Christian country of some 11 million people and you've come today to a church. What are you seeing?
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Well, it's a Roman Catholic Church in Kator in Juba. This is the president's church. The people here have come. There's a huge crowd of people. It's a beautiful church. And, of course, a lot of people here are very receptive to the president's message of last night, which is one of unity, bringing the tribes together, saying that anybody who committed atrocities in the past week will be punished. This is what the president has been trying to say to bring the country back together.
GREENE: And I imagine it must be quite scene to be in a country that is suffering through so much violence, but on Christmas Day at a church where people are singing hymns behind you.
WARNER: Yeah, I mean, you know, it's a very discordant scene, because the one hand you have people in their finest - dressed in their finest, coming year for Christmas. Just behind them, I see a relatively small group. It's still a group of refugees who are homeless. And then, of course, there are thousands and thousands of people camped out inside the U.N. compound. Again, people are either homeless or scared to go home.
GREENE: Have you heard some of the stories from some of these displaced people?
WARNER: Yes, I spoke to them directly. These are people that told me these stories. People talked about being rounded up. These are mostly the tribe Nuer, which is the second-largest tribe in South Sudan. And they talk about being rounded up with other Nuer men, being tested by being greeted in the Dinka language. If they don't know how to speak the Dinka language, they're tortured. They're held captive. And they say that many of their friends have been shot and killed.
The U.N. is now saying that there were some mass graves found. At least 30 people were found in a place called Bentiu, another few sets of graves were found in Juba. Both tribes found in those different mass graves, depending on who was in control in that area.
GREENE: Gregory, there's some debate about whether this is an ethnic conflict or a political conflict. And that seems to be an important distinction that a lot of people who know this country are arguing about. Why is that so important?
WARNER: You know, right now the going narrative among the international community - certainly in the U.N. - is this: This is a political battle. It was fought along ethnic lines because the president and his rival are of different tribes, but that it has a political solution. And if it has a political solution, then this democracy can continue. If it is a tribal conflict, if it's an ethnic conflict, then we're looking at civil war.
And, of course, the U.N. is of two minds about this. On the one hand, we have U.N. Special Representative Hilde Johnson saying: No, no, this is not an ethnic conflict, this absolutely political. On the other hand, you have the U.N. Security Council voting to send 12,500 peacekeepers here, just in case.
GREENE: We've been speaking to NPR's Gregory Warner. He joined us from Juba, South Sudan. Greg, thanks a lot and a Merry Christmas to you.
WARNER: Thanks, David, Merry Christmas.
GREENE: And Gregory is on the ground there and will be continuing to follow the events in South Sudan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.