South Sudan - Tribal Warfare 2013
At least ten thousand people were killed in the first month of fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and soldiers backing former deputy, Riek Machar, who was dismissed in July 2013. By New Year 2014 thousands had been killed in tribal warfare that pitted Dinka troops against Nuer combatants. Some 250,000 people had been displaced by the fighting as of 09 January 2014, and while no official death toll has been released, a top U.N. official saidit is likely to be "very substantially in excess of the figure of 1,000 that we know for sure about.” Tensions within South Sudan, the world’s youngest country which only gained independence in July 2011 after seceding from Sudan, burst out into open conflict on 15 December when President Salva Kiir's Government said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July 2013, launched an attempted coup. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Machar to the Lou Nuer.
After decades of struggle, by 2005 the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) wase the dominant single political movement in Southern Sudan, and the genesis of a one-party state. On July 30, 2005, long-time SPLM leader John Garang died in a helicopter crash. The SPLM/A named Salva Kiir, Garang’s deputy, as President of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS). The July 2005 death of Garang and the formation of the Government of South Sudan gave the SPLM opportunities to bring rivals and former adversaries into the fold. The enlargement process intensified factionalism within the SPLM. While the SPLM has no serious political rival in the South, there are internal strains.
Three major factions existed on the basis of ethnicity/regionalism and allegiance to the memory and the vision of John Garang.
The first faction counted those who were closest to Garang and who continued to support to varying degree his vision of a unitary Sudan and the SPLM as a national party. This faction included Garang relatives, the most senior officers in the Sudan People's Liberation Army [SPLA], and prominent SPLM Ministers in the Government of National Unity. Ethnically, this group drew support from Garang's Dinka Bor clan and most other Dinka groups along the Nile, and the majority of the Shilluk. It also had the allegiance of the small southern tribes along the eastern portion of the border with Kenya and Uganda, although these groups had traditionally vied for greater political power for Equatoria and supported Equatorian politicians within SPLM. In the years after Garang's death the adherents of this faction drifted towards the other two factions. But as late as 2014, Rebecca Garang, the widow of former SPLM leader John Garang, was being backed by at least part of the old Garang camp - people who were unhappy with some of president Salva Kiir's policies. Before the fighting in December 2013 escalated, Rebecca Garang had sharply criticized President Salva Kiir for his autocratic leadership style and the corruption within the government.
The second major SPLM faction consists of those who support Salva Kiir and were put off by the autocratic style of Garang. The SPLA rank and file as well as many junior and mid-level officers support Kiir, who is perceived more as soldier than politician. Kiir is well respected in the South, but he does not have the large coterie of powerful followers in the political class or the popular adulation formerly accorded to Garang. He is the least divisive SPLM leader in ethnic terms: he satisfies the ambitions of the plurality Dinka groups that form the core of the SPLM without raising the specter of Dinka Bor hegemony that troubled other ethnic groups during Garang,s tenure.The Kiir faction enjoyed support among the Dinka in the northwest, especially the Rek and Malual, and from Bahr el Ghazel. Kiir also draws support from the Fertit and Zande -- the latter because of conflicts with displaced Dinka Bor in Zande lands in Western Equatoria State -- and, increasingly, the Nuer from Upper Nile.
The April 2010 presidential election, which resulted in the election of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, was deemed generally free and fair within the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan by international observers. As President, he is untainted by corruption, his political instincts are strong, and his consensus style of governance gave hope for a democratic future for Southern Sudan, Kiir is a unifying force in a culture deeply susceptible to and threatened by tribal and ethnic divisions.
The third SPLM faction was headed by GoSS Vice President Riek Machar, who became Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan and SPLM Co-Chair of the Joint Executive Political Committee in August 2005. Since 1983, the SPLA had been divided into 3 main factions: the SPLA Torit faction led by John Garang; the SPLA Bahr-al-Ghazal faction led by Carabino Kuany Bol; and the South Sudan Independence Movement led by Riek Machar. Riek is a much traveled veteran of southern politics who has cycled in and out of the SPLM. A Nuer from Western Upper Nile, Machar was founder or co-founder of Southern Sudan Democratic Forum, Coordinating Council of South Sudan, and United Democratic Sudanese Forces.
In 1991 Machar split from the main body of the SPLM and, along with others, armed the White Army to protect the Lou Nuer, who were neglected by both the SPLA and Khartoum. The result was a largely apolitical, but heavily armed tribal militia that provided protection for cattle camps, but also engaged in notorious cattle raiding against neighboring groups, including their traditional rivals, the Dinka Bor. Machar's ambition to lead Southern Sudan was not a secret to anyone, but his frequent switch of allegiances during the war and his signature of the Khartoum Peace Agreement with the National Islamic Front in 1997 alienated many Southerners.
The history of oil exploitation in Sudan has been marked by northern domination, killings, displacement, community destruction, environmental degradation, arms purchases, and accusations of cheating on revenue sharing. By 2006 there were rumors and recriminations among senior SPLM members who wanted an accounting of the bonuses paid and more transparency in the deals. Many suspected Vice President Riek Machar, among others, of profiteering, although a key minister, albeit with reported ties to Machar, assured Juba officials that the bulk of the funds are banked. Many in the party admit the deals lack transparency, but assert that the SPLM had the right to sign these contracts and say they want to handle the corruption issues internally.
The SPLM National Convention met in May 2008, and debated the future of Dr. Riek Machar, given the embattled Vice President's legacy of untrustworthiness and brutality within the South The rank and file delegates were gripped by rumors that Machar's ouster from the party leadership would push him to foment violence among his fellow-ethnic Nuer that would divide and destabilize the region.
Alarmed by the increased conflict and violence in South Sudan, particularly the eastern state of Jonglei, the Security Council on 23 August 2013 strongly condemned attacks on civilians and the looting of UN and other international aid organizations’ facilities, and called on the Government to expedite safe and unhindered humanitarian access to the people cut off from aid. In a statement to the press, the Council “called on all parties, including armed militias, to exercise restraint, refrain from any acts of violence against civilians” and to “fully respect their obligations under applicable international law, including human rights law and international humanitarian law.” An estimated 100,000 civilians in Jonglei alone have been cut off from life-saving assistance as a result of fighting between State and non-state armed actors, and the recent resurgence of inter-communal clashes.
On November 26, 2013 South Sudan’s former Vice President Riek Machar said he was putting structures in place to challenge President Salva Kiir for the leadership of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) ahead of the 2015 general election. Some supporters of the ruling party said he was one of a group of visionless and directionless people in the party who were power hungry and intent on enriching themselves.
Fighting broke out in Juba 12 on 15 Decembe 2013 and rapidly spread to around half of South Sudan's 10 states. The government said the clashes in Juba were a coup bid launched by former Vice President Riek Machar, but Machar has denied he had orchestrated an attempt to oust Kiir. Media reports said that hundreds of people had been killed since the clashes between members of the national forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) began. UNMISS said on 18 December 2013 it had observed a “noticeable improvement” in security conditions in much of the capital, Juba. The Mission lifted restrictions on the movement of its personnel, and has resumed patrols on a limited basis in the city itself and restored flight service to and from the Ugandan city of Entebbe.
“Life in the center of town is returning back to relative normalcy. The safety of civilians in the South Sudanese capital remains a concern, however, especially on the city’s outskirts,” the Mission said in a news release. Meanwhile, security conditions in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, had deteriorated significantly during the course of the day, with heavy fighting reported this morning, the Mission noted. Bor was the site of a notable massacre by the Hhite Army in 1991 in which Nuer militias massacred Dinkas in an outburst of inter-ethnic fighting. The violence triggered an exodus of civilians out of Bor, and thousands have sought shelter at the UNMISS compound on the outskirts of the city.
On 19 December 2013, over 2,000 heavily armed assailants stormed an UNMISS base in Akobo, in restive Jonglei state, in a brazen attack that left some 20 Dinka civilians dead as well as two UN peacekeepers, with a third wounded. At the time, 43 Indian peacekeepers, six UN police advisers and two UN civilian staffers were present at the base. About 30 South Sudanese had sought shelter from the turmoil plaguing areas of Akobo County, the Mission said in a statement.
On 24 December 2013 the UN Security Council today authorized almost doubling the United Nations peacekeeping force in strife-torn South Sudan to nearly 14,000 in the face of a rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of civilians dead and tens of thousands of others driven from their homes. As requested by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Council unanimously approved a temporary increase in the strength of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to up to 12,500 military and 1,323 police from a current combined strength of some 7,000, through the transfer of units if necessary from other UN forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Darfur, Abyei, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.
In a resolution passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the use of force, the 15-member Council demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities and the immediate opening of a dialogue between the rival factions, and condemned the fighting and violence targeted against civilians and specific ethnic and other communities as well as attacks and threats against UNMISS.
On December 17, 2013, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Embassy personnel from Juba, Republic of South Sudan. On Dec. 21, four U.S. service members were injured in South Sudan when they attempted to evacuate Americans from the town of Bor, according to a U.S. Africa Command statement. They were hit by small-arms fire by unknown forces when their three CV-22 Osprey aircraft attempted to land in Bor. On 22 December 2013, the United States -- in coordination with the United Nations and in consultation with the South Sudanese government -- safely evacuated American citizens from Bor. The commander of Africom, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, repositioned forces in East Africa in an effort to attain maximum flexibility to respond to State Department requests. The United States said 150 Marines had been moved to Djibouti, ready to enter South Sudan to evacuate Americans and protect US facilities.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called both President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar on Tuesday, urging them to halt the fighting and hold mediated political talks. Both men have said they are ready for dialogue, but the government rejected Machar's demand that detained opposition leaders be released first. The government said that forces loyal to Machar remain in control of Bentiu, one of two state capitals seized by renegade soldiers last week. It said on Tuesday that the army retook the other city, Bor, and was clearing out remaining rebel forces.
Rebel soldiers and government troops in South Sudan fought for control of Malakal, the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile State. Clashes in the town began 24 December 2013 and picked up again the following day, with government officials acknowledging the army was not in full control of the town.
Days of clashes in South Sudan have hit the country's largest source of revenue as oil production was halted in Unity state after foreign workers fled the oil fields over fears of more fighting in the region. "Unfortunately, the workers have closed the oil. Nobody closed it from us here," said former army General James Koang Chuol, who defected last week and took control of Bentiu, the capital of Unity state. Unity produced around 15 percent of the country's total oil output before the latest shutdown.
The Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an African regional bloc said December 27, 2013 that South Sudan's government has agreed to a cease-fire, a move that could help end inter-ethnic fighting that had left more than 1,000 people dead this month. IGAD announced the decision at the end of a Friday summit in Nairobi. The group urged supporters of President Salva Kiir's former deputy, Riek Machar, to make the same commitment. Earlier, President Kiir and Machar both said they were ready for dialogue, but the government rejected Machar's demand that detained opposition leaders be released first. A spokesman for South Sudan's foreign ministry, Mawien Makol Arik said the government's ceasefire would begin immediately. Arik said Vice President Riek Machar, the leader of the rebellion, had three days to respond to the ceasefire call.
The government agreed to release eight of 11 prisoners suspected of plotting the coup. Most of the 11 detainees were not outright Machar supporters, but part of a group made up of ex-comrades of the late Sudanese liberation hero John Garang, known as the "Garang Boys". But Machar forces would not agree to cease-fire terms until the government releases all 11 prisoners. Machar said the "mechanisms for monitoring" any agreement must first be established.
The day after the government announced a cease-fire, the so-called White Army militia [first formed by vice president Riek Machar in the early 1990s], was marching on the capital of Jonglei state, threatening to escalate violence. Thousands of armed ethnic Nuer youths were heading toward the South Sudan city of Bor, after the rebel opposition dismissed calls to end hostilities until all political prisoners are freed. The White Army is a group of armed civilian cattle camp guards from the Nuer ethnic group that in the past has organized thousands of fighters to launch attacks in Jonglei state, mostly targeting the Murle community. South Sudan's government claimed that some 25,000 armed fighters from the Machar-backed force - the so called "White Army" - planned to attack the central town of Bor, which was retaken by government forces a few days earlier. The youth, like Machar, are ethnic Nuers while President Salva Kiir and his loyalists are ethnic Dinka.
South Sudan government spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth said 28 December 2013 that that more than 25,000 Lou Nuer youth were marching toward Bor, the provincial capital of Jonglei state. But the next day Lueth said that Nuer community leaders in Jonglei state had met with the fighters and persuaded most to stand down. Only a "very few" refused to listen and were still gathering, Lueth said. But the same day, Ateny Wek Ateng, a spokesman for President Salva Kiir, denied earlier reports that most of the youths had been persuaded to go home. On 31 December 2013 heavy fighting erupted in Bor, the contested provincial capital of Jonglei state, a short drive from the capital Juba. Enough White Army forces - variously estimated at 5,000 to 25,000 - converged to take control of the city. The SPLA estimated the number of rebels in Bor at between 4,000-7,000. Government troops effected a "tactical withdrawal" [ran away], while the White Army forces declared their intention to march on Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said 30 December 2013 that East African states had warned South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar to sign a cease-fire deal or face action by regional nations. Museveni, who met South Sudanese President Salva Kiir in South Sudan's capital, Juba said Machar has been given four days to respond to the offer. Uganda said it had troops stationed at Juba's international airport tasked with "facilitating evacuation of civilians," but United Nations workers in the city said the forces were more widely deployed. Museveni and Kiir are strong allies. This raised concerns that Sudan might once again throw its support to Riek Machar’s rebel forces. Riek Machar’s expedient decision in 1997 to make a factitious “peace” with Khartoum (the so-called “Khartoum Peace Agreement”) led subsequently to some of the most violent fighting of the war, concentrated in Riek's Nuer homeland of Unity State (then Western Upper Nile).
On 31 December 2013 the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) voiced grave concern over mounting evidence of gross human rights abuses in the strife-torn country, including extra-judicial killings of civilians and captured soldiers, massive displacements and arbitrary detentions, often on ethnic grounds. "Available evidence indicates that atrocities are continuing to occur in various parts of South Sudan... Many of these violations appear to be ethnically targeted. Most of the more brutal atrocities are reported to have been carried out by people wearing uniform."
By 01 January 2014, delegates for South Sudan's warring sides were gathering in in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for peace talks, in a bid to end weeks of violence. The United States welcomed the talks and reiterated calls for an immediate end to the fighting. The government arrested several alleged coup plotters soon after the violence began. Hussein Mar Nyuot, a member of the rebel delegation to the peace talks, urged the government to free political detainees.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared a state of emergency late on 01 January 2014 in Unity state and Jonglei, whose respective provincial capitals of Bentiu and Bor are in the hands of militia loyal to former vice president Riek Machar. and South Sudan army (SPLA) force of as many as 10,000 troops was said to be advancing on the rebel-controlled town of Bor. A rebel spokesman dismissed the SPLA's claimes on its advance as lies and said South Sudan's army and the national government in the capital Juba had resorted to a “war of allegations” before peace negotiations could get underway.
Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) officers in different towns in Greater Equatoria defected to join rebels, an official said on 05 January 2014. SPLA Spokesman Col. Philip Aguer told press in Juba that, in Yei a platoon [some 30 SPLA officers and a Commander] had defected. He also said some officers have defected in Mundri town of Western Equatoria State. The South Sudan National Police Service dismissed reports of sporadic gunshots in Juba as having been launched by rebels.
Rebel militia held Bor, the capital of the key oil-producing state of Jonglei. In an interview with Asharq Al-Aswat (London, 2 January 2014), Riek Machar answered a question about revenues from Southern oil production: "We confirmed that oil production and export would continue and that we would pay Khartoum its dues according to the cooperation agreement between the two countries. We have also arranged for South Sudan’s revenues to be deposited in a special account until the war ends."
The Economist (January 3, 2014) speculated: "Machar may be able to hold the fledgling country’s oil infrastructure to ransom. If he can chalk up some early victories — for instance, by taking and holding Bor — he may be better placed to sue for peace." Some in South Sudan feared that Khartoum might seek to re-draw the North/South boundary, and seize the oil fields of Unity and Upper Nile states under color of “protecting” a mutual and shared natural resource.
South Sudan holds sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest reserves. China has huge interests in South Sudan; it is the largest investor in the country's oil industry. But state-owned oil companies China National Petroleum Corp and Sinopec had to evacuate some of their workers because of the violence. In 2012, China for the first time deployed infantry to a UN PKO. This “guard unit,” as Chinese media described it, was tasked with security for the PLA engineering and medical formed military units in its contingent deployed to the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). These forces were equipped with armored vehicles, enabling them to provide fixed-site security and convoy escorts.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for an immediate end to all hostilities and violence in South Sudan. On 06 January 2014, Wang began a six-day tour of Africa in Ethiopia, where delegations of the fighting South Sudanese factions are due to begin peace talks. Zhong Jianhua, a Chinese special envoy to Africa, already visited South Sudan in December to push for peace talks. He also was in Ethiopia for the peace negotiations.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir pledged his government would not support rebels in neighboring South Sudan. The Sudanese leader spoke January 06, 2014 during a brief visit to the southern capital, Juba, where he met with South Sudan President Salva Kiir. Bashir thanked Kiir for a "warm welcome" and went on to say Sudan will never support rebels against any neighboring government. He said that "would only cause instability, exhaustion of resources and destruction of ties between countries."
South Sudanese government troops have recaptured the town of Bentiu in oil-producing Unity state, army spokesman Philip Aguer told VOA January 10, 2014. Government troops retook the town at 2:30 p.m. after a two-hour battle with rebel forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, Aguer said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the claim. Aguer said the army's next target will be to recapture the capital of Jonglei state, Bor.
One of the problems that observers saw with the talks in Addis Ababais that the disparate group of warlords and officials of the ruling SPLM who supported Riek Machar have not formulated any clear-cut objectives. Although they have brought large swathes of the country under their control, the rebels do not seem to have any discernible hierarchies. Even Machar's position of leadership among the rebels is not firmly established.
South Sudan's military battled rebels in the northern Upper Nile state region on 15 January 2014, amid continued international concerns that unrest in the world's newest country could spiral into a full-fledged civil war. Army spokesman Philip Aguer claimed fighting continued in the oil town of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state. Previously, the rebels said they had captured Malakal -- a claim the government denied.
Uganda acknowledged on 16 January 2014 that its forces were helping South Sudan's army battle rebels, reversing a previous denial. A Ugandan military spokesman said his country's forces were helping to drive rebels out of Bor, the capital of South Sudan's Jonglei state. Earlier, President Yoweri Museveni said Ugandan forces took part in a "big battle" with rebels on 13 January 2014 about 90 kilometers from the capital, Juba. Uganda had previously said its forces were present in South Sudan to protect and evacuate Ugandan civilians. Rebels had accused Uganda of fighting with soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir.
South Sudan's government said 18 January 2014 its forces had recaptured Bor, the strategic town that has changed hands several times since fighting between government and anti-government forces erupted in mid-December 2013. Army spokesman Philip Aguer said SPLA forces entered Bor and "defeated" more than 15,000 opposition fighters. He said the military had "frustrated" what he said were plans by former vice president Riek Machar to attack the capital, Juba. Anti-government negotiator Mabior de Garang said the opposition had agreed on a plan and would be willing to sign a cease-fire in coming days.
South Sudan's warring factions signed a cease-fire agreement January 23, 2014, a move that was expected to end weeks of deadly fighting between the government and rebel forces. Representatives for President Salva Kiir and his opponents signed the plan in Ethiopia's capital, where they had been meeting with mediators from East African regional bloc known as IGAD. Mediators urged South Sudan warring factions to respect the ceasefire agreement following accusations that both sides were violating the accord.
Riek Machar said 03 February 2014 had formed a "resistance" group to fight for free elections in the war-torn country. He that his new group was against what he called the regime of President Salva Kiir, and said he wants to see democracy and pluralism in South Sudan. It remained unclear whether Machar was in charge of the rebels who battled government troops in several states. Thousands were believed to have been killed, and more than a half-million people were driven from their homes. A shaky cease-fire was in place, with each side accusing the other of violations. A second round of peace talks for South Sudan was under way in the Ethiopian capital in February 2014.
The South Sudanese government said 14 February 2014 that it was fighting thousands of troops loyal to a renegade military commander who rejected the cessation of hostilities agreement signed three weeks earlier. Forces loyal to General Gat-hoth Gatkuoth, the former commissioner for Nasir county in Upper Nile state, have attacked positions held by the South Sudanese army, the SPLA, since the cessation of hostilities agreement was signed on 23 January 2014. Gatkuoth issued a statement two weeks after the cessation of hostilities agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, rejecting the deal and vowing to continue fighting until Kiir has left office. He accused Kiir of ordering the killing of civilians in the conflict that has rocked South Sudan since mid-December and said he did not believe Kiir would honor the deals signed in late January.
East African countries said March 05, 2014 they were ready to send a protection and stabilization force to South Sudan, where fighting has continued despite a ceasefire. Peace negotiations taking place in Addis Ababa have made little headway. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African bloc mediating the peace talks, said East African countries are prepared to send protection forces into South Sudan to halt the ongoing conflict. A January deal to cease hostilities continued to be violated by both parties in the conflict.
South Sudan's army said 19 April 2014 they had "lost communication" with commanders battling rebels in a key oil state where rebels have seized a major town, amid a worsening conflict engulfing the young nation. Rebels said the army had fled Bentiu in disarray and that they had seized large amounts of military equipment including artillery, but the army dismissed the reports and said it was staging a counterattack.
However, army spokesman Malaak Ayuen said the situation was "all calm" in the flashpoint town of Bor, where at least 58 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded when gunmen stormed a UN base on 17 April 2014. The UN Security Council called the attack on the camp where thousands of civilians were sheltering an "outrage" that may "constitute a war crime". Among the dead were children, and the UN warned that the death toll could increase.
Meanwhile, over 100 people were killed in a cattle raid in South Sudan's Warrap state. "We lost about 28 civilians" in an isolated cattle herders' camp in the remote northern state, Warrap state Information Minister Bol Dhel told the UN-backed Miraya FM radio 19 April 2014, adding that police and soldiers then chased the attackers, killing 85. Raids between rival communities are common, and it was not immediately clear if the cattle raid was connected to the ongoing conflict, but the civil war has exacerbated existing bitter divisions between ethnic groups.
The conflict in South Sudan, the world's youngest country that only won independence from Sudan in 2011, had left thousands dead and forced around a million people to flee their homes. The fighting has been marked by reports and allegations of atrocities by both sides, with ethnic massacres, child soldier recruitment and patients raped and murdered in hospitals by attacking forces.
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