Dressed in a ripped T-shirt and shorts, 10-year-old Martin Andrea raises a toy AK-47 assault rifle made of long grass reeds to his shoulder and takes aim at no-one in particular on a red dirt road in Wau in northwestern South Sudan.
“I want to kill Dinkas because they make life difficult for us,” he said, speaking through a translator.
Nearly three years ago political rivalry between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer, sparked a civil war that has often followed ethnic lines. The pair signed a shaky peace deal a year ago but fighting continues and Machar fled the country.
For several months, Martin has been living in a tarpaulin shelter with his mother, Terbi, seven brothers and two sisters in an area protected by U.N. peacekeepers after fleeing their home amid an eruption of violence between government forces and different ethnic groups.
The family are among some 24,000 civilians sheltering at the site. Around South Sudan U.N. peacekeepers are protecting nearly 200,000 people at six compounds. The U.N. Security Council visited Wau on Sunday during a three-day visit to South Sudan.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power became visibly emotional recounting a meeting with two girls aged 12 and 13 at the camp in Wau. Both had been raped, one on her way to school.
“Even though she had lost her home, her father had been killed and she ended up in a POC (protection of civilians) site, she wanted to keep going to school,” Power told reporters.
The United Nations said the conflict in Wau has been marked by grave human rights violations, including killings and rapes.
Adam Luciano Umong, 32, fled with his family to the U.N. protected camp in June after he said government troops killed his policeman brother, wounded his 21-year-old brother, George, and stole his motorbike, which he used to provide a taxi service.
“The government is the one killing people, killing civilians … Salva Kiir is not president, he’s not a responsible man,” Umong said. “I don’t want Riek, I don’t want Salva … These people are destroying the country.”
Half of the 12 million people in South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, are going hungry due to the conflict, poor rains and a battered economy.
“What we expected of independence was not like this,” said Christine Elia, 27, as she cooked porridge for her four children. “My house was looted and two of my brothers were killed … It was really dangerous but we managed to escape and then we went to the bush.”
She said that although she arrived at the camp 45 days ago she does not yet have a shelter to live under. “When it is raining, it rains on us … there is no food for us,” she said, speaking through a translator.
Madeline Luis, 38, is about to give birth any day to her 12th child. She already has six boys and five girls and they have been living at the Wau camp for several months. Speaking through a translator, Luis said she did not see a future as her children were in the camp instead of in school.
“With these two people still in power, South Sudan will not be stable,” she said of Kiir and Machar.