Is Genocide in South Sudan Next?

Strathink Editorial Team

In a world saturated with bad news, the recent eruption of heavy fighting in South Sudan’s capital not only is tragic but threatens the entire region.  Since December 2013, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar have been dismantling the fragile political unity of the world’s newest state and making the already volatile region of the Horn of Africa even more dangerous. The consequences of a further escalation of the war are substantial—both for South Sudan and the larger region. In the Horn of Africa, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The countries in the region, led by Ethiopia, the current chair of the regional body IGAD, and the international community need to act swiftly in order to stop the latest fighting between the forces loyal to both leaders before another genocide unfolds—far more worse in scale and proportion than the one that took place in Rwanda.

Hopes for peace rose when IGAD and the international community brokered an agreement whereby Riek Machar was re-appointed first vice president by Salva Kiir. This move put pressure on Machar to return to Juba. However, the two men were not ready to work for a lasting peace in South Sudan. The vice president was confined to his camp instead of the State House.

The situation is further exacerbated by the failure of the international community to fulfill its commitments to the people of South Sudan.   The cost of living for ordinary South Sudanese and the army is untenable and the tolerance for hardship has reached a critical mass. The government has been unable to pay salaries for government workers and soldiers for over five months. It is no secret that the armies on both sides have been involved in looting public and private properties for supplies.

The first incident of fighting between the forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar broke out on July 5, 2016 around the town of Waw. From the beginning, there were indications that the fighting would spread out into the capital city of Juba and other parts of South Sudan.

The second clash between the troops loyal to the government and Machar continued the next day on July 6, 2016 when forces loyal to Machar killed five government soldiers around a place called Gudele.

On July 7, 2016, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar met to discuss the deteriorating security situation in the country. Fighting broke out between Kiir and Machar’s bodyguards and an unknown number of soldiers from both sides were killed.

Riek Machar’s forces retreated to their camp in Jabel Kujur and the fighting continued on July 8 and 9, 2016. Government troops attacked positions held by forces loyal to Machar using combat helicopters.

Although the Kiir and Machar have ordered their troops to stop the fighting and called for restraint, it now appears that the conflict is out of their control. Soldiers loyal to the government are said to have been carrying out targeted killings against the Nuer, an Machar’s ethnic group. The troops loyal to the president are continuing to harass and search vehicles belonging to the UN and the diplomatic community based in Juba—accusing them of providing support to Machar.

On July 10, 2016, two government tanks were destroyed near the UN refugee camp in Juba. Government troops are threatening to storm the UN camp, believing that troops loyal to Machar are inside the camp.

The fighting, carried out by tanks and heavy artillery, continued on July 11, 2016 around the UN compound and Jabel Kujur—where Riek Machar is believed to be staying. Government offices and foreign embassies in Juba remained closed since the latest fighting, and troops loyal to the government continue to detain and kill people belonging to the Nuer ethnic community.

The death toll, including civilian casualties since the latest fighting broke out, is estimated between 250-270.

Although the fighting appears to have subsided over the past few days, the situation in Juba remains tense. The government has ordered soldiers from both sides to return to their designated barracks and camps.

The imminent danger is that neither Kiir nor Machar appear to have control over their troops. There are rumors that troops who have defected from both sides are involved in widespread rampaging and looting of public and private properties. There are confirmed reports of extensive looting in Gudele, Jabel Kujor and Tomping.

In Juba, there is no movement of persons and vehicles except government soldiers and military vehicles. All commercials vehicles to Juba have stopped since July 9, 2016.

On July 12, 2016, President Salva Kiir announced the removal of Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Cerino Hiteng–a post reserved for the opposition under the recent peace accord and a clear violation of the agreement. No reason was given for his removal.

The African Union is sending an additional peacekeeping contingent to stop the current fighting.

Uganda said it has opened its borders to evacuate its citizens and is deploying its army along the border with South Sudan. There is widespread fear in the region that Ugandan President Museveni will send his army to fight alongside Salva Kiir.

Western nations are preparing to evacuate their nationals and the African Union and United Nations have requested the Government of South Sudan to open its airspace for evacuation and humanitarian operations. The UN Security Council is imposing an arms embargo and travel ban against the leaders of South Sudan.

The countries in the region, led by Ethiopia, the current chair of IGAD, along with the international community need to swiftly act in order to stop the latest fighting before another genocide, far worse in scale and proportion Rwanda unfolds before our eyes.

 

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