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Wounded South Sudan rebels fear hospital

March 7, 2014

BOR, South Sudan (AP) — Satine Riek remembers the sting as the bullet pierced his leg. The 26-year-old soldier, who recently defected from South Sudan’s army, was shot last month when government troops recaptured the town of Bor.

“I was fighting, yes. I was fighting Dinka, and Dinka was trying to kill me because I was Nuer,” he said while sitting in the cramped U.N. camp in Bor this week.

Doctors recommended Riek be flown to Juba, the capital about 100 miles south, for medical treatment, but neither South Sudan’s government or army would provide a safe passage guarantee that would allow him and others considered enemy fighters to fly on a U.N. flight.

“I come for treatment here (Bor) and supposed to go to Juba but could not go,” he said.

He is not alone. Other wounded rebel fighters are not getting appropriate medical treatment because they fear going to the hospital in the capital, where they risk retaliation from the government. An Associated Press reporter spoke with three rebels in the U.N. camp here whose gunshot wounds have not been treated. The three wounded rebel soldiers are all from the Nuer tribe. They fear the country’s majority tribe, the Dinka, would retaliate against them in the capital.

“The fighting is continuing,” Riek said. “Dinka kill us without reason, because our leader Riek Machar is Nuer. For now the future of this country, this country will not be able to sit together unless there is another government.”

Thousands of civilians and soldiers — both regular army and rebel fighters — have been killed in the three months of battles here. The U.N estimates 3.2 million are in immediate need of food. Aid groups and the U.N. fear the inability to plant crops during the approaching rainy season will spark a deeper humanitarian crisis and potential famine.

Bor has changed hands four times between the military — the SPLA — and rebels who call themselves SPLA in Opposition. The rebels back Machar, a Nuer who was fired as vice president in July by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka.

The fighting saw Bor’s hospital destroyed and patients killed in their beds. Thirteen female workers at St. Andrews church were killed when rebels overran the compound. At the height of the conflict 17,000 people in Bor sought refuge in the U.N. camp. Now 5,000 remain.

Maj. Yun-Dae Kim, head of the Korean medical team attached to the U.N. in Bor, said in January his team treated 200 people for gunshot wounds and ordered 80 medical evacuations.

“We were supposed to evacuate people with gunshot wounds to Juba but the government troops didn’t allow all,” he said.

Several former fighters told AP their friends died because they did not receive treatment.

“There were so many causalities that couldn’t have necessary treatment,” said Jinuk Na, a Korean surgeon here.

According to international humanitarian law combatants are evacuated for medical treatment only when there is “a guarantee of safety” at the other end of the flight, said U.N. spokeswoman Ariane Quentier.

“When the (U.N.) mission assessed that the safety guarantee was not provided, we could not transport combatants,” she said.

But a spokesman for the South Sudan’s military, Brig. Gen. Malaak Ayuen, said army orders are for all wounded, regardless of side, to be treated properly.

“Usually wounded rebels go to the U.N. and then taken to Juba if need be. I am not aware rebels were stopped,” he said.

Update hourly