Last Saturday (12 March), rebels gained access to the SOS Children's Village, where heavy fighting broke out between them and soldiers of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The rebels took cover in one of the family houses and were surrounded by SPLA soldiers and police. Although they have now left, the Village has been left damaged.
The 103 children and SOS staff were evacuated from the Village and are currently staying in a hotel at a safe distance from any ongoing fighting. The hotel is in close proximity to the Nile, which could facilitate an evacuation via the river in case the airport is closed due to more fighting. At present, the airport is already closed, along with banks and markets. Should the fighting continue, temporary quarters will be rented in a safe area of the town. If necessary, an evacuation to Juba in the far South of the country would be possible.
The SOS families and staff had to leave all their belongings behind as they fled the Village. Allegedly, the SPLA troops were planning the destruction of the SOS family house the rebels had taken cover in to force their surrender. Checking children for signs of post-traumatic stress is a priority: “Whilst many children sadly had previous experiences of being caught in the middle of violence before”, said Village Director Alwock Dok, “we want to prevent further emotional suffering and any serious psychological illness as a result of what they have had to live through last Saturday.”
On Friday, Village Director Alwock Dok was able to return to the Village and assess the damage. Two family houses are inhabitable many belongings have been taken. It is thought the Village will not be habitable for at least another two weeks.
This attack on Malakal clearly marks an escalation in clashes between the south's army and militias which has aroused fears over the stability of the region in the countdown to its secession, due on July 9. The rebels who raided Malakal this weekend are led by the renegade militia once part of the SPLM movement - the political wing of the SPLA - and part of the largest ethnic groups in southern Sudan, who felt marginalised particularly in terms of unemployment and contested the last April governorship elections of neighbouring Jonglei state.
Celebrations of the results of the referendum at the SOS Children’s Village Malakal were marred by a series of outbreaks of violence, namely in Malakal and other parts of Upper Nile. In early February, loyalists of another group of rebels refused to surrender their heavy weapons. Around 60 people were killed in the fighting that ensued in Malakal and 150 families took refuge for a couple of days inside the village. SOS Children’s Village Malakal was busy helping the families as many suffered from the looting of their homes.At present there are two SOS Children's Villages in Sudan, one SOS Youth Home, one SOS Nursery, one SOS School and one SOS Vocational Training Centre.