Today there have been reports of two important developments on the matter of individuals detained followed a reported coup in South Sudan this past December. Seven of the eleven individuals arrested, who have come to be known as the “Garang Boys” for their connection to national hero John Garang, were released and deported to Kenya. South Sudan, however, said it would proceed with a trial against the remaining four individuals, along with three others not currently in custody. Notably among those individuals is former Vice President Riek Machar.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014
Machar, who has become the defacto leadership figure for the rebellion that has followed the coup attempt and arrest of the Garang Boys, had said that the release of all of the detainees was required for negotiations on a peaceful resoltuion of the current crisis. This was echoed by the delegation representing the rebels at talks held in Ethiopia, arranged by the east African economic organization, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Some IGAD members have also called for the release of the detainees, a demand which the South Sudanese government has staunchly refused to acquiesce to. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who appeared with the detainees sent to his country, said he and other regional leaders would continue to press for the release of the rest of the detainees.
Peace and reconciliation may continue to elude South Sudan with these announcements, however. While both sides continue to say they are committed to the ceasefire agreed to at the IGAD sponsored talks, Taban Deng, the head of the delegation representing the rebels who signed that agreement on their behalf is among those sought for trial. In addition to the continued pursuit of these treason charges, Ugandan forces, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government, remain in the country. Their presence has become a divisive issue, both among the parties to the conflict and among other east African leaders. Uganda is a key member of IGAD.
All of this also comes as the United Nations reports almost half a million people to be displaced in the country, including almost eighty thousand sheltering in or around facilities operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). The UN says it needs over $200 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs through March, but had only received a little over $100 million as of January 13th. The UN has described the current situation in the country as “fragile.”
The rebel delegation meeting with representatives of the South Sudanese government in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa rejected the proposition that talks start without preconditions yesterday. The rebel delegation is sticking to the demand that those arrested last month following a reported coup attempt be released before any negotiations can proceed. The eleven detained individuals are referred to as the “Garang Boys,” as they are said to be former associates of John Garang, a hero of the Second Sudan Civil War, the outcome of which eventually led to the creation of independent South Sudan. They are said to not be outright associates of former Vice President Riek Machar, who President Salva Kiir has accused of orchestrating the coup attempt. The demand, which is rapidly becoming the most pressing issue, has brought the talks in Ethiopia, organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African economic bloc, to a standstill.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014.
Fighting in South Sudan between predominantly ethnic Nuer rebels and government forces, primarily ethnic Dinka, continues in spite of the talks. Fighting was reported outside of Bor, which has been a flashpoint for weeks now, and civilians were reportedly fleeing their homes in Bentiu, an oil town near the South Sudan-Sudan border in Unity state. A portion of these individuals have sought shelter in the facility there operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that some sixty thousand individuals are currently sheltering in or near UNMISS facilities. The death toll from the conflict so far remains unclear.
In a more positive development, the South Sudanese Army has reported that David Yauyau, another rebel leader who has been fighting the government in Jonglei state since April 2012, has agreed to a ceasefire. The agreement reportedly came after President Salva Kiir offered Yauyau an amnesty, but was not independently verified. South Sudanese authorities had already been negotiating with Yauyau before reported coup attempt with retired Catholic Archbishop Paride Taban acting as a mediator.
In other related news, Uganda’s parliament summoned the Defense Minister to appear before them tomorrow to explain the deployment of Ugandan troops to South Sudan. Some parliamentarians in Uganda accuse President Museveni of violating the country’s constitution in deploying the troops without first seeking their approval. Others believe that the crisis warranted immediate action and could not wait for parliament, which was in recess at the time, to convene and make a ruling. Uganda deployed forces into the country last week, ostensibly to assist in the evacuations of Ugandan nationals. However, President Yoweri Museveni has also demanded that Riek Machar and Nuer rebels immediately agree to a ceasefire or face the threat of regional action.