Warrnambool families hold concerns for relatives in South Sudan

IT’S been a nervous week for Warrnambool’s Sudanese families amid reports that more than a thousand lives have been lost to fighting in South Sudan. 

A political dispute inside the ruling government has led to civil turmoil with an estimated 50,000 people being displaced.

There are only about 30 Sudanese residents remaining in Warrnambool after a refugee settlement program in 2003. 

Community leader Otha Akoch said many had left the region to find employment in other parts of Australia. 

But those still in the south-west have spent recent days listening to reports of violence. 

“We have been calling people at home and talking to them,” Mr Akoch said. 

“The fighting is very intensive.

“I’ve got family there, I’ve talked to most of them — even yesterday.” 

South Sudanese president Salva Kiir sacked the country’s former vice-president Riek Machar earlier this month sparking the unrest. 

Both political leaders are from the country’s two dominant ethnic groups, with the sacking triggering tensions between the Dinka and Nuer groups.

Mr Akoch said he was hopeful a delegation of Kenyan and Ugandan leaders could find a political solution to the crisis. 

“Soldiers aren’t the answer. The solution is political mediation to stop the war,” Mr Akoch said. 

“Hopefully the international community can put weight on the issue. We are hoping that will be the salvation of the people and the innocents.” 

Australia has deployed two aircraft to assist the United Nations mission in restoring peace to South Sudan, which gained independence from it’s northern neighbour Sudan in 2011. 

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