12/20/2013 09:11 EST | Updated 02/19/2014 05:59 EST

South Sudan refugees 'suffering' in UN peacekeeping bases

A South Sudanese man who has taken refuge inside a United Nations peacekeeping base says thousands of people inside the compound are seriously suffering as ethnic tensions continue to inflame the young country.

“There is no water, there is no food, there is no camps,” said John, an ethnic Nuer who fled to a base in the capital of Juba. (His identity is being kept anonymous for his safety.)

“The place is very dirty because there is no toilets, nothing at all.… No beds, no mattress. nothing — even blanket is not there,” John told CBC Radio’s As It Happens. “People seriously they are suffering.”

The UN said Friday that 35,000 people are seeking refuge at its bases in three locations across the country, including 20,000 at two bases in the capital. Several hundred people were also seeking shelter in Bentiu.

At least 500 people are believed to have been killed in a week of widespread ethnic conflict, according to UN diplomats. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, said earlier this week an attempted coup had triggered the violence, placing the blame on ousted vice-president Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer. Officials have since said a fight between Dinka and Nuer members of the presidential guard sparked the fighting Sunday night that has since spread across the country.

John accused Kiir and government forces of being behind the killings of Nuers, and estimates that at least 1,000 people have died in the violence.

“[The order] is coming from the president, I think,” John said, “because he’s the one now in charge and he’s the one who can say no or yes to this country.”

South Sudan, the world's newest country, peacefully broke away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war and years of negotiations that former U.S. president George W. Bush had invested heavily in.