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.
Yesterday, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir held talks in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. Though Sudanese authorities did not initially provide any detailed information about what topics might be discussed, it quickly became apparent that at least one of the major focuses was the matter of oil. Most notably, the two reportedly broached the subject of establishing a joint force to secure oil fields threatened by the current crisis. Nuer rebels have claimed control of many towns in oil producing states in South Sudan since an reported coup attempt in December resulting in a surge of violence. Sudan also called for a ceasefire and for talks to solve the current impasse, adding that it had no intention of support rebel forces against the government.
Figure 1, South Sudan Crisis Map, as of December 26, 2013, from Congressional Research Service Report R43344, dated December 27th, 2013
Sudan and South Sudan have had a rocky relationship since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the country’s declaration of independence in 2011, so this meeting between the two leaders and the discussion of Sudanese troops deploying to the country are significant on their own. One of the major points of contention between the two countries has been the matter of oil, and especially the disputed oil-rich Abyei region. Efforts continue to develop a means of shipping the oil south, but currently, the only method by which South Sudan can rapidly transport oil out of the country is through pipelines into Sudan. Fighting that disrupted the flow of oil in 2011 and 2012 eventually led to an agreement between the two nations. The agreement focused on getting the oil fields back up and running while leaving the border issue unresolved. The dispute over control of Abyei remains unresolved, but it is clear that Sudan is not interested in another disruption. Neither are the Chinese.
The meeting between Presidents Kiir and al-Bashir comes as talks organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) over a potential ceasefire continue in the Ethopian capital Addis Ababa and fighting across much of South Sudan rages on. The United Nations has been rushing to bolster the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), which is currently sheltering tens of thousands from the violence and attempting to assist civilians in need. To cope with the situation UN is seeking to double the size of UNMISS to fourteen thousand personnel and has been shifting resources from the mission in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to help. The potential for a humanitarian disaster in the country is great and the actual number of causalities already resulting from the conflict is uncertain.
Peace talks aimed at ending the violence in South Sudan formally opened in Ethipoia’s capital Addis Ababa yesterday. Despite assurances from President Salva Kiir and former Vice President and defacto rebel leader Riek Machar that they support the peace process, significant issues remain in simply getting talks started. The talks, organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional economic organization in East Africa, were originally scheduled to open on Saturday following preliminary meetings on Friday. A lack of a clear agenda delayed the formal opening of the talks by a day.
Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The capital, Juba, as well as the cities of Akobo and Bor have been highlighted.
Now additional protocol issues have threatened to stall the talks or worse. Machar, who has denied the existence of a coup plot, which was the inciting incident for the violence, has said he believes there are issues that need to be resolved before even a ceasefire can come into effect. Chief among his delegations’ demands are the release of political allies arrested in the wake of the reported coup attempt. The South Sudanese government delegation is of the opinion that there should be no preconditions to begin negotiations. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is also expected to travel to South Sudan to meet with President Kiir about the crisis. It is unclear what such a visit might necessarily offer either side in the current conflict, but it is known that Machar had for a period sided with the Sudanese government.
In the meantime, violence in the country continues, with the government and rebel forces fighting for control of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. A general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the South Sudanese Army, was reported to have been killed outside of Bor after his convoy was ambushed. Gunfire was also reported in the capital, Juba. There have been fears that rebels are planning an attack to take the capital and that delays in peace talks might be an attempt to wait to see if the situation on the ground changes dramatically in favor of the rebels.
The United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) has received authorization to increase its overall size and has been working to deploy existing forces to affected areas. The UN has tapped the mission in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), to help provide logistical support for operations in South Sudan. The UN believes that some two hundred thousand people have been displaced by fighting, with tens of thousands having sought shelter in UNMISS facilities. It is unclear how many have died in the violence. The US, which, along with others, has been working to evacuate foreign civilians, recently announced that it was further scaling back its diplomatic mission in the country. US forces have been deployed to the country to provide security for diplomatic facilities and help in evacuation efforts.
Despite reports that the ethnic Nuer “White Army” had turned around from a planned attack on Bor, the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, it was reported that they had in fact taken control of the city yesterday. Renewed clashes between Nuer rebels and government forces in Bor, a major focus of the violence that has wracked the country, were subsequently reported today. It remains unclear whether either side is firmly in control of the city. Fighting also continues elsewhere in the country.
Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The capital, Juba, as well as the cities of Akobo and Bor have been highlighted.
The continued strife comes as it was announced that peace talks mediated by Ethiopia would commence in the capital of that country, Addis Ababa. These talks will be held under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional bloc that recently held a summit on ways forward in South Sudan. At the summit, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir stated he was willing to declare a ceasefire and enter into negotiations with rebels in his country. Ethnic Nuer rebels were hesitant and their defacto leader, Riek Machar, blamed by President Kiir for the coup attempt to provoked the violence, had demanded the release of political allies who have since been arrested before beginning any talks. However, after the reported capture of Bor yesterday, Machar announced he would be sending a delegation to Ethiopia.
Machar and his remaining allies deny any coup attempt and insist that President Kiir had incited the violence to distract from problems within the country. Machar, a former Vice President, had been an outspoken critic of President Kiir and his government, accusing the Dinka ethnic group of dominating the country’s political institutions after the country gained independence in 2011. Machar had also been an on-again off-again member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) rebel group, which subsequently became the country’s dominant political party after independence. President Kiir has ruled out any possibility of power-sharing and also said recently that he felt other regional leaders should have come immediately to the aid of the government following the coup.
At least one thousand people have died in the resulting violence, with tens of thousands sheltering in facilities operated by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). Approximately ten thousand South Sudanese have also fled the country. The UN estimates that some one hundred and eighty thousand people have been displaced in the fighting. The UN has also reported that it is finding significant evidence to support accusations of serious rights abuses during the violence on all sides. This has included the reported discovery of mass graves. The UN has repeatedly called for an end to the violence and a peaceful solution to the crisis, and the African Union today threatened the possibility of sanctions against those inciting violence.
Last Friday, East African leaders of the nations of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) bloc met in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss the ongoing crisis in South Sudan, where inter-communal violence has erupted following the reported suppression of a coup attempt. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir was among the heads of state who attended the meeting. A joint communique was subsequently issued condemning the violence and calling for a peaceful and mediated solution. Point number seven of the communique specifically said:
“Condemns all unconstitutional actions to challenge the constitutional order, democracy and the rule of law and in particularly condemns changing the democratic government of the Republic of South Sudan through use of force”
Following the meeting, the South Sudanese government pledged to cease hostilities against rebels, but no formal ceasefire resulted from the pledge. Ethnic Nuer rebels, who accuse the Dinka ethnic group of dominating the government of the world’s newest country, were reasonably wary of the government’s pledge in the absence of a formal agreement. On Saturday, a Nuer tribal militia loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar called the “White Army” was reported to be preparing to attack the capital of Jonglei state, Bor, which had already become a hotspot of the violence in the country. President Kiir accused Machar of being behind the coup attempt, and while Machar has repeated denied this, he has effectively sided with Nuer rebels. The White Army, reportedly numbering some twenty-five thousand individuals, mostly Nuer youth, was then reported to have turned around from its march on Bor on Sunday. Machar has also said he supports a ceasefire, but one that includes a verification component.
Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The capital, Juba, as well as the cities of Akobo and Bor have been highlighted. Violence has also been reported in Unity and Upper Nile states.
However, the White Army remains a force to be contended with and is seen by many as an additional obstacle to a negotiated settlement. Nuer militia have already been responsible for an attack on a facility in Akobo run by the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), that resulted in the deaths of two Indian peacekeepers and twenty civilians fleeing the violence. The UN estimates that over sixty-thousands civilians are currently sheltering at UNMISS facilities. The UN recently approved the expansion of UNMISS and peacekeepers from African nations have begun to arrive in the country. This includes a deployment of Ugandan peacekeepers today, along with a statement from Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who was present at the IGAD summit, calling for Machar to agree immediately to a ceasefire or face the potential of regional action. So far the United States has deployed forces to the country primarily to assist in the evacuation of US and other foreign nationals and to guard diplomatic facilities.