By Peter Martell/AFP
They came at dawn in their hundreds, squeezed onto barges that slipped across the river through the frontlines under cover of darkness, the latest to escape from South Sudan’s fighting.
Children lead the elderly out of the boats, as relays of people wade out into the river to carry babies and luggage to shore on their shoulders.
“We came through the night to avoid being seen,” said boat captain Kulang Mayen, one of several pulled up after their journey, lasting for hours as they slipped through the narrow creeks.
“We go every night to pick those running from the fighting.”
Like tens of thousands of others before them, they have fled fighting in one of South Sudan’s largest and most troubled states, Jonglei.
Fighting between rival army units across the country has taken the world’s youngest nation to the brink of all-out civil war. Thousands are feared to have been killed.
One wounded woman, shot in the leg during the fighting, limps painfully onto the muddy shore of the simple bankside port.
Michael Thiong, a soldier loyal to the government, carries an elderly woman on his back for the final stretch to dry land.
“I travelled with the boats to protect the people, to make sure they are safe,” he said. “Then I go back to guard the next convoy.”
Fighting began over three weeks ago as a clash between army units loyal to the president and those supporting his former deputy, Riek Machar.
It has since escalated into a conflict between government troops and a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders.
Some 80,000 have fled the rebel-held Bor region to once sleepy villages since violence erupted, according to the United Nations, the single largest concentration of displaced people by the conflict.
All say they are civilians, although many of the men are armed.
People slowly unwrap their blankets as the sun rises over the lush green reeds that surround the simple port on the White Nile river.
Families desperate for news
Thousands of exhausted civilians are crowding into the fishing village of Minkammen, a once-tiny riverbank settlement of a few thatch huts 25 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of Bor.
Some say they had spent days hiding out in the bush outside Bor as gunmen battled for control of the town, which has exchanged hands three times in the conflict, and remains in rebel control.
Others fled to the dozens of islands out in the Nile, or to guard the camps of the crucial herds of cattle upon which the livelihoods of the Dinka people depend.
But people say those areas are no longer safe either.
“Even the cattle camps have been attacked,” said Acui Choul, who abandoned his studies to guard his family’s cattle.
He separated from his family when gunmen from the Nuer people raided the camp and stole dozens of cattle.
On the shore, sipping sweet tea for breakfast, 20-year old student Philip Deng, who was also separated from his family in the chaos of the fighting, awaits news of his loved ones. Each morning he hopes to see them or hear news from friends from his village outside Bor.
“Their phones have been off since the fighting, so I hope they are like me, alive and well but searching,” he said.
Away from the port, the unrest has left many deeply worried about the future.
“We finished the war with the Arabs and made our new nation,” said a soldier, who gave his name only as Jacob, lying on a mattress near the riverside as he neatly folded his military fatigues.
South Sudan won its independence less than three years ago from the government in Khartoum.
“Now why are they fighting? You’ll have to ask the politicians for that answer, perhaps they might know,” he added.
The soldier, who fled his unit after the majority mutineered to join the rebels, fled across the river to take his family to safety.
“When I have got them settled, I will go back to the fight, for the government,” he said. “This has to be the last war.”
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