One of the few shards of hope, analysts say, is that Riek Machar, the former vice president and powerful Nuer politician who led the rebellion against the president, has been sidelined, relegated to exile in South Africa. Mr. Machar has been widely blamed for stoking ethnic violence and was considered a destabilizing force in the 1990s during the liberation battles, and few of South Sudan’s neighbors, which have been trying to broker a peace, want him to return.
But the issue of Dinka domination remains. The president, Mr. Kiir, is a Dinka, as are the chief of staff of the army and many top military and security officers.
Government officials admitted that some of their soldiers had committed abuses, but the government denies that it is trying to stir up an ethnically driven war.
In Yambio, most people are from the Azande ethnic group, and many say they have been brutalized by the Dinka. They also say some of their youths have joined the fight against the government.
They call the rebels “the boys in the bush.”
It’s often hard to tell which came first, the oppression or the rebellion.
In the past few months, small bands of Zande rebels have attacked government convoys and the houses of government officials. In response, the government has gone on a tear.
United Nations officials said that in December, government soldiers, commanded by Dinka officers, had burned down a string of villages outside Yambio and massacred scores of civilians. In Yei, another town in the Equatoria region, United Nations officials said that government soldiers chopped up babies and threw the body parts in a river.
The villages around Yambio have turned into ghost towns, empty huts staring lonesomely out at the wide dirt roads. Fields of peanuts, cassava, beans and corn have been abandoned. Some of the skinny papaya trees are so full of fruit at the top that they look like they’re about to tip over. Nobody’s around to pick them.