U.N. prepares new S. Sudan camps for terrified civilians

U.N. peacekeepers opened their gates to protect civilians after brutal fighting broke out in December with reports of massacres

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Tens of thousands of South Sudanese civilians sheltering in U.N. peacekeeper bases fearing revenge attacks after weeks of conflict are to be moved to new camps, U.N. officials said Monday.

More than three months since fighting broke out, some 77,000 civilians are still inside eight U.N. bases across the troubled nation, in overcrowded conditions that are worsening with the early arrival of torrential rains.

U.N. peacekeepers opened their gates to protect civilians after brutal fighting broke out in December with reports of massacres and targeted ethnic killings.

But the temporary shelter has stretched into months, and with fighting ongoing and a ceasefire in tatters, civilians are too fearful to leave.

Aid officials had hoped the thousands would be able to return to their homes, but are now being forced to prepare more permanent sites for people.

Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian chief in South Sudan, said there was "desperate overcrowding" for the 25,000 civilians crammed into the U.N.'s base in war-ravaged Malakal, the state capital of oil-producing Upper Nile.

Aid agencies and the U.N. are preparing a new "protection of civilians" site in Malakal, which will also free up space inside the U.N. camps for normal operations.

Those in the camps say they fear the creation of enclaves but are too fearful to return home.

"I don't want to live a life stuck in a camp, but my neighborhood in Juba is in ruins, and I would not be safe there," said John Nyoun, a student in the U.N. base in the capital.

"At my family home in the countryside... that is where the fighting is."

South Sudan's government has been at war with rebel groups since December 15, when a clash between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to sacked vice president Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting.

Over 930,000 civilians have fled their homes since fighting began, including over quarter of million leaving for neighboring nations as refugees, the U.N. said.

In the capital Juba, some 10,000 civilians squeezed into one U.N. base -- a swampy area used previously only as a sports ground -- are being moved to another U.N. camp in the city, as work is done on a new site.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) an agency supporting those in the camps, warned of "deplorable conditions" for all those who had fled their homes.

"People are still afraid to go home but also fear living knee-deep in water amid dangerously unsanitary conditions," IRC country director Wendy Taeuber said.