UN fears 'ethnic war' in South Sudan, EU boosts refugee funding

Juba (AFP) - The UN's special advisor on preventing genocide, Adama Dieng, said he feared escalating ethnic violence in South Sudan, as the EU offered emergency aid for the swelling number of refugees on Friday.

Speaking in Yumbe in neighbouring Uganda, the EU 's humanitarian aid commissioner offered 78 million euros ($85.2 million) to help the refugees, with 30 million earmarked for Uganda.

"I am truly alarmed by what I saw today," said Christos Stylianides. "I think that the crisis is largely underestimated. The needs are huge and they continue to grow."

Uganda, one of the world's poorest countries, currently hosts 530,000 South Sudanese refugees, 330,000 of whom fled fighting in the world's newest country this year alone.

The UN's Dieng meanwhile warned of "extreme polarisation among some tribal groups, which has increased in certain places" since July's fierce fighting in Juba between President Salva Kiir's largely Dinka soldiers, and his arch-foe Riek Machar's mostly Nuer rebels.

"Inflammatory stereotyping and name-calling have been accompanied by targeted killings and rape of members of particular groups, by violent attacks against individuals or communities on the basis of their perceived political affiliation," the UN advisor said at the close of a week-long visit.

Dieng said that "what began as political conflict has transformed into what could become an outright ethnic war".

"There is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines with potential for genocide," he added.

"With the stalling of the implementation of the peace agreement, the current humanitarian crisis, stagnating economic and proliferation of arms, all the ingredients are there for escalation of violence."

South Sudan, the world's newest country, gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into civil war in December 2013, leaving tens of thousands dead and displacing more than 2.5 million people.

A peace deal between Kiir and Machar in August last year had raised hopes of peace, until clashes erupted once again in July in the capital.

Dieng said that in Yei, in the southwest, he had "heard reports of violence that included targeted killings, assault... mutilation and rape by armed men, some in uniform and others not.

"There are cases of barbarous use of machetes which reminds (us) of Rwanda," he added, referring to the 1994 genocide there.

"Genocide is a process, it doesn?t happen overnight. And because it is a process and one that takes time... it can be prevented," he added.

"I urge the people of South Sudan to reconcile."

Stylianides urged donors to step up aid while thanking Uganda for its help to the rapidly increasing numbers of people seeking shelter from conflict.

Touring Bidibidi refugee settlement which, since its establishment in August, has swollen to become the third biggest refugee camp in the world, Stylianides said: ?I promise to continue assistance as long as it takes. You are not alone.?

Bidibidi is home to more than 215,000 refugees who each receive a plot of land to cultivate and materials to build a basic shelter. An average of about 2,400 new refuges arrive each day.