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A Quarter Of South Sudan's Population On The Run From Brutal Civil War


When South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, many believed it would be the end of decades of fighting with Sudan. But just two years later, the fighting would be from within. A shaky power-sharing agreement broke down, unleashing a vicious war between the country's two main ethnic groups, the Dinkas and the Nuers. Both sides have committed atrocities, including mass rapes, torture and executions.

David Miliband is the president of the International Rescue Committee. He has been in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. And he has just returned from the town of Nyal, where tens of thousands of people have taken refuge and now face starvation. Mr. Miliband, thank you so much for being with us.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much for your interest.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about the conditions on the ground right now in Nyal?

MILIBAND: Well, your description of vicious fighting is absolutely right. What you have here is the perfect storm. You have fighting, plus poverty, plus lack of governance - plus, I'm afraid, climate change. And then the final factor is that the world is not listening to the cries of the people of South Sudan, so the humanitarian effort is massively stretched.

MARTIN: There are reports - there have been reports that aid programs in South Sudan have allowed war profiteering - have funded some of the fighting, have fueled the corruption. Government soldiers, in particular, have looted World Food Program warehouses.

MILIBAND: It's very, very difficult to make sure that the aid reaches all the people who need it. But I have seen really strong efforts by, not just the NGOs, but also by the international community to provide the kind of security that allows for proper delivery of aid. So you're right that there can be random violence. You're right that there can be criminality. But I can assure you that whether it be the U.N. agencies or the NGOs, every effort is made to ensure that we have a supply chain that is clean and that ensures that the international aid reaches the people who deserve it.

MARTIN: Humanitarian aid agencies, you say, are making a difference. They have kept millions of South Sudanese alive over the past three years. But there is criticism that these refugee settlements and these camps - these protection camps are taking the place of political action. And it's that political solution that will be the key to resolving this war.

MILIBAND: Well, I agree that a political solution is absolutely key. That starts with the government and the opposition here. It includes the regional countries, countries like Uganda, countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. But there's also a vital, international diplomatic role. The last time there was really a glimmer of peace in South Sudan was in 2015, when the U.S. government, led by President Obama at the time, made a real and determined diplomatic and political effort to bring the sides together and stop the fighting. And I think it's very important that the political commitment remains.

MARTIN: So as you note, the United States was instrumental in the birth of South Sudan. You're saying that the United States should reaffirm its commitment to coming to a political solution in this war. But what does that look like?

MILIBAND: The U.S. needs, first of all, to engage other international players here - above all, the African nations but also Europeans and, frankly, Chinese because they're big investors here. The second thing is that there has been a United Nations Security Council commitment, supported by the U.S. and by the other permanent members of the Security Council, to deploy a regional protection force.

That is a peacekeeping force. That is much needed. It's been long promised, but it hasn't yet properly arrived. The U.S. is absolutely key to that but not on its own, with other players in the international community.

MARTIN: David Miliband is the president of the International Rescue Committee. He spoke to us from Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Thank you so much.

MILIBAND: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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