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UN: 400+ South Sudan Deaths in Early 2023

FILE: In this photo taken Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, government soldiers stand guard by their vehicle on the front lines in the town of Kuek, northern Upper Nile state, South Sudan.

NAIROBI — More than 400 people were killed in South Sudan between January and March this year, with ethnic clashes accounting for much of the violence plaguing the troubled country, the United Nations said Friday.

"Intercommunal violence by community-based militias and/or civil-defense groups constituted the primary source of violence affecting civilians", the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a press release.

"From January to March 2023, the Mission documented 920 incidents of violence against civilians (including 243 children), during which 405 civilians were killed, 235 injured, 266 abducted, and 14 were subjected to conflict-related sexual violence."

Monitors also documented 22 extra-judicial executions between January and May this year, "allegedly committed by South Sudan security apparatus personnel," the statement said.

"I condemn these incidents which occur without any due process," said Nicholas Haysom, the head of UNMISS, adding that the country's justice minister had agreed to investigate the allegations.

Meanwhile, the crisis unfolding in neighboring Sudan has forced more than 100,000 South Sudan refugees to flee back to their homeland, raising fears of fresh ethnic clashes, the U.N. said, with 13 people killed at a civilian protection camp last week.

Since achieving independence from Sudan in 2011, the world's newest nation has lurched from one crisis to another, including a brutal five-year civil war between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar that left nearly 400,000 people dead.

A peace deal was signed in 2018 but sporadic bursts of violence between government and opposition forces continue to occur, while conflict between rival ethnic groups in lawless parts of the country exacts a terrible toll on civilians.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country is one of the world's most expensive, with an annual budget of $1.2 billion that includes funding for some 17,000 soldiers.