Tag Archives: peace talks

South Sudanese Parties Sign Deal, Details Unclear

South Sudanese delegations meeting in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa have signed an agreement reportedly dealing with a ceasefire and the matter of the detention of individual said to have been behind an attempted coup in December.  Details, however, are scarce.  South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said only that “This agreement contains something of the issue of the detainees.”

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

The matter of eleven individuals detained in the aftermath of the reported coup in December had caused talks between the two delegations to drag on for weeks.  Riek Machar, fomer vice president and the nominal leader of the anti-government movement, had called for the release of the “Garang Boys,” so call because of their affiliation to national hero John Garang, as a precondition to any discussion of a ceasefire.  President Salva Kiir and the South Sudanese government had insisted that a formal investigation be handled to determine whether the men were indeed implicated in a coup and that their final status was a matter for the courts to decide.  Salva Kiir has also offered an amnesty for Machar, currently in hiding, should he renounce violence as a means of achieving his goals.

Significant concern remains as to whether anti-government representatives can effectively curtail the current violence, agreement or not.  The forces fighting the government in South Sudan are loosely aligned and hyper-localized, with little in the way of a formal chain of command.  There has been little let up in the fighting since the talks arranged by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) economic bloc began in Ethiopia. Uganda has also joined in the fighting on the side of the government, adding another factor to any current or future agreements, with some in the anti-government camp calling for their departure before talks can proceed.  However, their presence may have in fact been what stabilized the situation on the ground in South Sudan enough to compel rebel negotiators to change their tactics in Addis Ababa.  Prior to the Ugandan intervention, it looked like there was the realistic chance of rebel militias simply overrunning government forces in many areas.

In the meantime, fighting continues, where the United Nations says over a half a million people have fled their homes, including around seventy thousand sheltering in and around facilities operation by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  A general lack of security has limited the ability of the UN and others to monitor the conflict, meaning it has been difficult to estimate a death toll.  The UN has said it has reason to believe that atrocities have been committed on both sides.  UNMISS has generally struggled to help protect civilians from the violence, having been attacked by rebels and more recently resisted attempts by South Sudanese government forces to enter their compounds.  South Sudanese authorities accuse the UN of knowingly or unknowingly sheltering rebels and their weapons, something the UN denies.  Today, the UN said it had conducted searches of those sheltering in UNMISS facilities and turned up no weapons in doing so.

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South Sudan Peace Talks Off to an Uncertain Start

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.

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.

Fighting in Bor as Peace Talks Set to Begin

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.

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.