Yesterday, former South Sudanese Vice President and defacto leader of anti-government rebels Riek Machar announced the formation of a group he said would focus on “resistance” to the current government. Machar says the new group, somewhat confusingly titled the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA; the country’s ruling party is also called the SPLM and its national army is called the SPLA), serves to organize various existing rebel forces in the country against the current regime. Machar specifically mentioned rebels fighting in Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei states as having joined his movement, along with those in “Equatoria.” South Sudan’s southern region is broken up into Western, Central, and Eastern Equatoria states, and it is unclear which Machar was referring to.
Machar made the announcement from an undisclosed location. He is currently wanted by the government on charges stemming from a reported coup attempt last year. South Sudanese authorities say that Machar was behind the coup, which Machar denies. He claims the government of President Salva Kiir is engaged in a crackdown on dissenting voices and has been fomenting ethnic unrest to hide the political nature of the dispute. In announcing the SPLM/SPLA, Machar also called on the eleven individuals detained following the coup attempt to join his movement. Seven of those individuals have since been released and were deported to neighboring Kenya, as part of an apparent deal brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional economic bloc. The remaining individuals have been charged with treason.
The formation of the SPLM/SPLA is the latest in a series of events that calls into question the viability of a ceasefire agreement, which was facilitated by IGAD last month, as well as near term hopes for peace and reconciliation. Though the ceasefire did not immediately come into force once signed, there have been accusations of continued violence by both rebels and South Sudanese security forces, as well as reports of looting and misappropriation of humanitarian aid. There is also the matter of the remaining detainees and an intervention on behalf of the South Sudanese government by Uganda. Rebels and IGAD members like Kenya continue to call for the release of the remaining individuals detained following the coup attempt. South Sudan has refused to release them, and has also brought charges against those not in its custody, including Machar and Taban Deng. Taban Deng signed the IGAD-brokered ceasefire agreement on behalf of the rebels. Uganda, a member of IGAD, has also refused to pull out its troops.
The fighting in South Sudan has displaced over a half a million people, over eighty-five thousand of which are sheltering in or around facilities run by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). Limited access has made accounting for those killed or wounded in the fighting difficult for outside observers to independently establish.