South Sudan marks grim 6th independence anniversary
JUBA, South Sudan (AP):
For the second year in a row, the world's youngest nation will not have any official celebrations to mark the anniversary of its birth because of the widespread suffering caused by its ongoing civil war.
"We did not feel it was appropriate to spend whatever little funds we may have to celebrate when our people are hugely affected by the economic crisis," said South Sudan President Salva Kiir in an address to the nation on Sunday. "It's difficult for many people to afford even one meal per day."
Six years after South Sudan gained independence, the country is ravaged by fighting, severe hunger, mass displacement and accusations of war crimes by government and opposition forces.
For the country's 11 million people, what began with optimism has turned into a day of mourning.
Six years ago, on July 9, Martha Athieng slaughtered a bull with her family and friends and danced around her village.
"We all hoped for a better life," said Athieng. "We never knew we'd start killing each other."
When the war broke out, Athieng's husband and mother-in-law were both shot dead in fighting that erupted in her town in Jonglei state. Sitting in the dirt in Mingkaman, a village that's not her own, Athieng said she prays for peace so she can return home and rebuild her life. A visit to Mingkaman by The Associated Press days before the anniversary confirmed the suffering across the country.
During four years of fighting, South Sudan's situation has gravely deteriorated.
MILLIONS FORCED TO FLEE
Roughly four million people have been forced to flee their houses, more than half of them children, said the Norwegian Refugee Council. Six million people - half the country's population - are in need of food aid, and almost two million South Sudanese are living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
"South Sudan's independence day is overshadowed by conflict and an unprecedented food crisis," said country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, Rehana Zawar.
In his address to the nation, Kiir said the only solution is peace and he called on all armed groups to renounce violence and respect the ceasefire.