South Sudan massacre fears grow as 'White Army' gathers
South Sudan's civil war has lasted barely a fortnight, but the town of Bor on the White Nile has already changed hands twice and been looted on two occasions also.
With 15,000 people gathered for safety inside its UN camp and reports of a rebel militia mobilising nearby, the state capital now fears a third round of fighting.
Bor fell to the rebels soon after Riek Machar, a former vice-president, began an uprising on December 15.
The first capture of the town was accompanied by general looting, forcing thousands to flee. Then government soldiers loyal to Salva Kiir, the president, retook Bor on Christmas Eve, causing another round of plunder.
Yesterday, the market and the university were both pillaged, along with compounds previously used by international aid agencies. Thousands of fugitives, mainly from Mr Machar's Nuer tribe, have gathered in the local UN camp, along with about 350 Eritreans.
These migrant workers have been singled out by both sides. "We Eritrean citizens have a problem," said one man, who gave his name as David. "Our property is being taken. Our shops and everything have been looted."
The UN is providing water to the refugees, but many have not been given any food, and whatever supplies they brought with them are running out.
For now, the town is controlled by government forces. Yet that provides little reassurance as most of the soldiers are from Mr Kiir's Dinka tribe, and they have been accused of revenge attacks against Nuer civilians.
The camp itself is protected by UN peacekeeping troops, but David said that not enough were available. "Until now, the camp has not been attacked. But the army here is very few -- there are very few (UN) soldiers here," he added.
A cycle of tribal violence is exactly what South Sudan's Western and African allies want to avoid. They are pressing for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks between Mr Kiir and Mr Machar.
So far, however, diplomatic efforts have failed to prevent the steady escalation of the crisis in the world's newest country. Yesterday's developments suggested that Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, could be under threat once more.
A Nuer militia known as the 'White Army' was said to be massing near the town, which had a pre-war population of about 25,000. The government alleged that tens of thousands of militiamen were assembling, but there was no independent confirmation and later reports suggested they might have dispersed.
But the White Army, so named because its fighters paint themselves in white earth, has a notorious reputation. During South Sudan's independence war, they killed at least 2,000 Dinkas in a massacre in Bor in 1991. Whether the White Army, if it has been mobilised, is linked to Mr Machar is also uncertain. But people who have fled Bor fear the consequences of any new assault.
Manfred Taege, of John Garang Memorial University, said the threat from the White Army was real. "If they are able to capture Bor, it will be a terrible situation. There are revenge actions against the Nuer going on in Bor.
"If the White Army comes, then the situation will turn and the revenge will be by the Nuer against the Dinka."