South Sudan's Unrest Turns Politicians To Rebels, Tents To Homes : Parallels Even where there is peace, there is distrust, as the country divides along ethnic lines. In the government-controlled capital, members of the Nuer ethnic group are seeking protection in a U.N. camp.
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South Sudan's Unrest Turns Politicians To Rebels, Tents To Homes

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South Sudan's Unrest Turns Politicians To Rebels, Tents To Homes

South Sudan's Unrest Turns Politicians To Rebels, Tents To Homes

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

We have a reminder this morning of the intensely personal nature of South Sudan's civil war. It's an update on the story of a South Sudanese official who was suddenly judged to be on the wrong side.

MONTAGNE: We first heard of him last December. NPR's Gregory Warner was interviewing the former Minister of Education Peter Adwok when police surrounded the politician's house. Warner was forced to hide.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: OK, so, I'm now in the Adwok spare room.

Now, I'm whispering here because the South Sudanese police don't know I'm here, and his wife, Abuk Payiti, has begged me not to show my face.

They're searching the house now.

INSKEEP: Gregory Warner emerged later to discover that Adwok had been arrested along with other government critics. That was back in December. Now, Adwok and his co-accused have since been released. And Gregory met up with the ex-minister when he returned to Juba, South Sudan this weekend.

WARNER: Well, first, I just wanted to know what happened after the police hauled him off back in December. He said he was booked and taken to a small house where he met 11 other political prisoners, all former officials like himself, now forbidden to leave.

PETER ADWOK: So you can't even see outside. You can hear the sound of moving cars and people shouting or so on, but you can't see anything. But, of course, it was better than prison.

WARNER: Adwok asked the chief prosecutor why he'd been arrested.

ADWOK: And he said, well, because you attended the press conference on the sixth of December.

WARNER: That's right, an illegal press conference. The government says they were preparing a coup. Adwok says they were just proposing procedural changes to allow their favorite candidate, Riek Machar, to challenge President Salva Kiir in the next election.

But whatever that press conference was, it was the end of South Sudanese politics as usual. Riek Machar is now a rebel leader commanding forces of the ethnic Nuer. Then Adwok says that President Salva Kiir has winnowed his army and the police to favor his ethnic base, the Dinka.

ADWOK: We don't have a national army. We don't have a national police. All that you see are armed tribal groups, and their allegiance is not to the state. It is to the ethnic community and the leaders.

WARNER: That's why today in the capital, Juba, which is firmly under the control of the government, you have 20,000 people from the other ethnic group, the Nuer, seeking protection in the largest United Nations compound.


WARNER: Thanks to UNICEF, the kids in this camp have some spots to play in, but otherwise, most every other square inch is claimed by a latrine or a sleeping tent or a kiosk under a plastic tarp. In fact, a whole camp economy has sprung up where, for just over a dollar, you can smoke a shisha, get a haircut and charge your cellphone.

Taaban Kuon charges 30 cents to use an outlet connected to a generator.

TAABAN KUON: Yeah, it's just wasting time. We don't have work, exactly. And we don't have school.

WARNER: Jeremiah Gai, a university student and political science who lives in one of these nearby tents, says his classmates call him and they tell him, leave the camp, come back to class. You've missed almost the whole semester.

JEREMIAH GAI: Yeah, they say you come back. You come back. They call me always. Even I know they know me there.

WARNER: So why don't you go back?

GAI: This no time for reading.

WARNER: It's no time for....

GAI: This is not time for reading. This is a time for fighting. Now, we are a rebel. I'm rebel now.

WARNER: Actually, this rebel has never held a gun. But he wears the badge to set himself apart from Nuer classmates who have returned to school who don't feel as tribal as he does.

Five months into this conflict, with so many South Sudanese taking refuge in homogenous ethnic groups, the biggest challenge in South Sudan isn't just stopping the war in the places where there's fighting. It's getting people to trust again each other and their government in the places where there's peace. Almost everybody in this camp tells me, as they told me in December, that starts with President Kiir stepping down.

GAI: If Salva Kiir is not step down, we will fight.

WARNER: The United State's position on this has been twofold. Secretary John Kerry came to Juba to say he still supports Kiir as the democratically elected leader, but wants him to talk to rebel commander Machar about a, quote, "transitional government."

Kiir agreed, and then after Kerry left South Sudan, Kiir's spokesman told reporters that he won't discuss any government where he does not remain commander-in-chief.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Juba.

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