Speed Reads

This is terrible

South Sudan is turning into an ethnic bloodbath


Last week, hundreds of residents of Benitiu, the capital of oil-rich South Sudan state Unity, gathered in a mosque for safety as rebel troops took the town from government forces. Instead, United Nations peacekeepers say, thieves were waiting to rob the people of their money and cell phones, then gunmen entered and opened fire, indiscriminately slaying hundreds of civilians, including children and the elderly.

"Piles and piles" of bodies were left in the mosque, town hospital, and along the roadside, Toby Lanzer, the top U.N. aid official in South Sudan, tells The Associated Press. The hundreds of dead add to the thousands killed since December when the largely ethnic Nuer supporters of former Vice President Riek Machar started warring with the largely ethnic Dinka supporters of President Salva Kiir.

But the April 15-16 mass killings in Benitiu, carried out by Nuers, are "quite possibly a game-changer," Lanzer said. That's because, like the two-decades-old genocide in Rwanda, the Benitiu massacre was preceded by exhortations on the radio for revenge attacks and rapes. "It's the first time we're aware of that a local radio station was broadcasting hate messages encouraging people to engage in atrocities," Lanzer says. "And that really accelerates South Sudan's descent into an even more difficult situation from which it needs to extract itself."