Country: South Sudan
Upon our arrival in Bor I knew I was in a war zone.
Soldiers, policemen and armed civilians flooded the muddy streets. I was immediately apprehended by a soldier and taken to a compound that resembled a scene out of an 80s film; surrounded by men in every kind and colour of camouflage uniform, wearing berets of all shapes and sizes.
I met the governor’s representatives, who were sitting under a tamarind tree in the state compound, and the local commander told me politely, but in no uncertain terms, that now was not a good time to be in Bor.
Local armed youths had just stormed the UN base in town and they didn’t know what the reaction would be. He would not give me permission to continue with the expedition north.
The town itself has been destroyed by the war. In the outskirts, entire villages had been abandoned. Blown-up tanks were rusting at the side of the roads and the signs of death were everywhere.
Mass graves had been the only way to bury those killed, and a weeping lay preacher showed me where 17 members of the clergy had been murdered inside the cathedral - a stone and wooden structure pockmarked by bullet holes and charred by fire.The market place stood empty, burnt to the ground by rebels in January, and all the banks had been looted. An ATM machine hung like an eyeball out of its socket on the outside wall. Inside the bank, credit cards, cheque books and filed accounts were strewn across the floor. Rebels and government soldiers alike had used the bank's date stamps to plaster the walls with evidence of their pillage, displaying a twisted sense of humour.
Elsewhere, pillars were scrawled with graffiti. “FK you Nuer” and “Dinkas defeated” showed how the town had changed hands four times.
Holing up in the charred remains of the South Sudan hotel, where all the doors had been kicked in and lights smashed - I found the truth I was looking for. At dusk, the sky was lit up by tracer fire, heavy machine guns rattled in the streets and the dull thump of DSHK rounds shook the ground.
Dinka civilians attacked the UN compound in retaliation for the Nuer celebrating the fall of the town of Bentiu into rebel hands and it was reported that 60 people were killed. UN peacekeepers returned fire and there was a battle that moved into the streets. It was time to head back to Juba.
Two nights in that hellish place was enough for me. Reports came in that the rebels were staging a massive offensive on the key towns that straddle the Nile - Bentiu, Malakal and Renk. All that day, battle raged around these towns and hundreds, possibly thousands, were reported killed.
It would be reckless and downright stupid to try to walk through the middle of a war zone where people are starving and dying, so I made the heart-wrenching decision to fly from Juba to North Sudan and continue my journey from there.
Whilst I won’t be able to walk this stretch of the Nile I will carry on with the expedition on the other side of the war zone, 400 miles to the north. One day, in more peaceful times, I will come back and fill in the gap.
I’m obviously very disappointed but it’s the right decision for many reasons and ultimately out of my hands. I only wish now for peace in South Sudan and hope that people can get on with their lives.