Tag Archives: SPLM

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.

US Sends Task Force to South Sudan as Violence Spreads

The United States has sent elements of the East Africa Response Force to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and is working to evacuate non-essential embassy personnel, US nationals, and others from the country.  Violence has spread since the government reported Monday that it had “quashed” an alleged coup attempt.  President Salva Kiir made the announcement on national television in full military dress instead of his normal civilian attire.  Martial law was subsequently declared and the UN estimates that some five hundred people have been killed since the the fighting started.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.

President Kiir said today that he is willing to hold talks with former Vice President Riek Machar, who he says is behind the coup attempt.  Riek Machar, a member of the country’s Nuer ethnic group, was also a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leadership before South Sudan became an indepedent nation in 2011 and the SPLM became the country’s dominant political party.  Machar has since become an opposition political figure, claiming to represent the Nuer in a government said to be dominated by the country’s main ethnic group, the Dinka.  President Kiir is a member of the Dinka ethnic group and there are concerns that the violence could expand into outright inter-ethnic conflict.  The UN, which maintains a peacekeeping mission in the country, the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), has called on all parties to refrain from actions that could incite ethnic tensions.

However, the violence currently appears to be spreading, with reports of clashes occurring outside the capital and its immediate surroundings.  This is what led the US Department of State to first recommend that US citizens evacuate the country as soon as possible and subsequently provide assistance for them in doing so.  Today, the Department of State reported that US Air Force C-130s and a private charter aircraft had departed the country carrying evacuees, and added that it would continue to work to help arrange transportation for those wishing to leave. Other countries are conducting similar efforts to evacuate their nationals and others wishing to leave.

US Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment, the core element of the East Africa Response Force, load gear onto a C-130 Hercules during a response force training exercise on November 8th, 2013 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

US Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment, the core element of the East Africa Response Force, load gear onto a C-130 Hercules during a response force training exercise on November 8th, 2013 at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

In addition, the US deployed elements of the relatively new East Africa Response Force (EARF), a joint task force co-located with Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti, to provide additional physical security for diplomatic facilities.  Currently, the core element of the EARF is the US Army’s 1st Battalion, 63d Armor Regiment.  The battalion is assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.  In 2012, it was announced that 2/1st Infantry would be aligned with US Africa Command (AFRICOM) as part of a new initiative to align US-based brigade combat teams on a rotating basis with geographic component commands.  2/1st Infantry was the first brigade combat team to be so aligned and 1-63d Armor was the first unit from the brigade to deploy in support of this new mission.  The EARF conducted a readiness exercise in November, simulating response to a contingency at an embassy in the region.  Response to such a scenario has become a major focus of regional planning following the events at the US consulate in Benghazi in September 2012.

Correction (12/23/13): By December 14th, 1-63d Armor had in fact conducted a relief in place transfer of authority with 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, also part of 2/1st Infantry.  It was soldiers from 1-18th Infantry that formed the core of the EARF when elements were deployed to South Sudan.

CAR’s Djotodia Says He’s in Talks with Militias

Current President of Central African Republic Michel Djotodia said yesterday that contacts had been established with so-called anti-balaka groups opposed to his rule.  According to Djotodia, the anti-balaka groups had specifically raised concerns about their safety should they agree to stop fighting, and also sought an official amnesty and their inclusion in the government.  He also added that he saw “no harm” in such outreach and would be looking to potentially reach out to other groups.  It was unclear who this might refer to in a country that has seen the emergence of numerous armed groupings since Djotodia ousted President Francois Bozize in March.

Map of Central Africa Republic

Map of Central African Republic

The concerns about safety reportedly raised by the anti-balaka contacts is entirely reasonable given that Djotodia has not appeared to have significant control over the fighters that thrust him into power.  Former members of the Seleka rebel movement, which Djotodia officially disbanded following declaring himself the country’s new president, remain active, especially in the suburbs of the capital Bangui.  I have disputed whether Djotodia has publicly admitted his lack of control over these fighters and anti-balaka militiamen may be understandably wary of any guarantees given to them as part of any agreement with Djotodia’s government.  A reported incident yesterday, where militiamen, possibly Djotodia’s personal bodyguard, surrounded French President Francois Hollande’s plane at the airport in Bangui speaks to the general uncertainty and insecurity in the country at present.

France launched an intervention into the country, Operation Sangaris, following the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2127 on December 5th.  This gave a UN mandate to the French operation, as well as the existing African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).  The African Union has since approved the expansion of MISCA to a total of six thousand personnel, and the United States has been involved in helping to rapidly deploy African peacekeeping forces into the country.

Also, in other news today, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir appeared on national television in military uniform to say that his government had defeated a coup attempt.  South Sudan, the newest independent country in the world following its break from Sudan in 2011, has been wracked by border disputes with Sudan and infighting between the members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the insurgent group that now forms the largest political party in the country’s government.  Kiir said that coup had been led by individuals loyal to Riek Machar, a former deputy to Kiir and leadership figure in the SPLM.  Machar now leads a splinter faction of the SPLM, which focuses on the representation of the Nuer ethnic group.  The Nuer are the second largest ethnic group in South Sudan, behind the Dinka.  Kiir is a member of the Dinka group and reports suggest there have been accusations of the domination of the country’s government by that group.