Africa

Wife of South Sudan's exiled VP describes homeland horrors on Australia visit

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With the world's newest country falling further into the grip of famine and civil war, solutions to the crisis in South Sudan appear as distant as ever.

At the heart of the crisis has been the conflict between the government and exiled former Vice President Riek Machar, whose wife is in Australia sharing some frank views on the predicament in her homeland.

Touring World Vision's Melbourne head office, Angelina Teny, the wife of former Vice President Riek Machar, spent time with those raising funds for South Sudan, explaining the confronting reality of the world's youngest nation.

"I don't know if any of you have seen a dying child because they cannot have food," she told SBS World News

"That is - I don't have a word to describe it - I have seen it, I have been there, the whole thing is not a story for me."

South Sudan's rebel leader and now Vice President Riek Machar, center-left, walks with President Salva Kiir, center-right, in April 2016
South Sudan's rebel leader and now Vice President Riek Machar, center-left, walks with President Salva Kiir, center-right, in April 2016 (AAP)
AAP

Ms Teny and her husband fled South Sudan's capital Juba last July when he was sacked by President Salva Kiir, fearing they would be harmed.

Dr Machar's armed resistance against the government has been criticised in some quarters as unnecessary; his wife says it's unavoidable.

"Whether your conscience would allow you to walk away and allow communities to be slaughtered, that's another thing, so these choices all have their own consequences," she said.

Remarkably, Ms Teny conceded some acts committed by forces loyal to her husband may at some time in the future be regarded as atrocities or possibly even war crimes.

"Definitely because you know when this crisis started in 2013 it was a spontaneous response to an action that was done in Juba, where over 20,000 people - one ethnic group - were targeted by the government," she said.

Ms Teny said she's aware of the social issues and links to crime directed at South Sudanese Australians, and she's calling for calm. 

"The division back home also manifests itself in our diaspora communities - so one message we are telling them is please start the process of reconciliation among yourselves."

Aid agencies have criticised the government for cutting foreign aid in the recent Budget.

South Sudanese rebel soldiers raise their weapons at a military camp in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Thursday, April 7, 2016.
South Sudanese rebel soldiers raise their weapons at a military camp in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Thursday, April 7, 2016.(AAP)
AAP

Oxfam Australia's chief, Helen Szoke, returned from South Sudan last week and described the experience as confronting.

"We met people who had been walking nine days through the swamp to escape the conflict," she said.

"This is very much a famine which has been produced by the conflict in that country."

World Vision's Tim Costello also visited South Sudan recently and said he was perplexed at the timing of the government's decision.

"Now a famine in South Sudan, now desperate refugees pouring into Uganda - a million of them - these aid cuts could not come at a worse time."

It's a view Ms Teny also expressed to politicians during her brief Australian visit.

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