South Sudan in turmoil: All you need to know as civil war fears grow

By: | Published: July 12, 2016 5:01 PM

Fears of civil war has once again gripped South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan on July 9 five years ago. The country's short history has been marred by a number of civil wars.

sudan-LSouth Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street following renewed fighting in South Sudan’s capital Juba, July 10, 2016. (Reuters)

Fears of civil war has once again gripped South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan on July 9 five years ago. The country’s short history has been marred by a number of civil wars.

The recent violence broke out on the country’s independence day, killing hundreds of people. On Tuesday, leaders of the fighting groups announced ceasefire. If it will bring peace or not in the country, however, remains to be seen.

Here is a low-down on the recent episode of violence.

Who are fighting?
Fighting erupted on July 9 in capital Juba between followers of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the former rebel leader who became vice-president under a deal to end a two-year civil war.

Why the fight started?
The reason behind the latest round of violence is, however, not clear. According to reports, large scale violence escalated on Friday after five soldiers were killed in a shootout on Thursday night over a disagreement at a checkpoint between rival soldiers.

Civil war fears

The fighting has raised fears of a return to the civil war that erupted in late 2013 and broadly ran along ethnic lines, pitting Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against Machar, a Nuer. The conflict killed thousands of people, forced more than 2.5 million people from their homes and left almost half the population of 11 million people struggling to find food. Oil production, by far the biggest source of government revenue, has plummeted.

Old rivals

Kiir and Machar are old rivals, both in politics and on the battlefield.  Civil war broke out in 2013, a few months after Kiir sacked Machar as his deputy.

Fighting has often erupted outside Juba since the two men signed a peace deal in August last year. But this was the first time it had flared in Juba since Machar finally returned in April after months of wrangling about terms of the pact.

Tension increased in one month
Clemence Pinaud, an assistant professor at Indiana University and an expert on South Sudan, said that tensions increased in Juba during the past month.

“We most likely witnessed an acceleration … into a full-on war in Juba between the two parties,” Pinaud said.

Experts say the failure to swiftly implement important elements of the peace deal, such as integrating and demobilizing their forces, has allowed tension to fester and risked igniting a new conflict.

Death toll

There has been no official death toll from the recent flare up but at least five soldiers died on Thursday and a Health Ministry source said 272 people, including 33 civilians, were killed on Friday. Sunday and Monday’s fighting was more fierce.

36,000 seek shelters

The United Nations called on Tuesday for free movement and protection of civilians fleeing fighting in the South Sudanese capital of Juba, where it said at least 36,000 displaced people are seeking shelter in U.N. sites and other locations.

“Access to those in need is limited by the ongoing fighting and insecurity,” U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told a news briefing in Geneva. Access to the U.N. compound is being blocked for civilians, who are trapped in churches and schools without access to water and sanitation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, adding that it was sending trauma kits.

Meanwhile the U.N. refugee agency called on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to people seeking asylum and said it was gearing up for possible refugee outflows.

US, UNSC reaction

The UN Secuirty Council has reminded party’s involved in violence that attacks against civilians and UN premises and personnel may constitute war crimes. On Sunday, the UNSC demanded Kiir and Machar rein in their forces and end the fighting. The U.N. mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, expressed its “outrage” after its bases in Juba were caught in the crossfire between the two sides and two Chinese peacekeepers were killed.

In a statement, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said, “I strongly urge President Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar to do everything within their power to de-escalate the hostilities immediately and to order their respective forces to disengage and withdraw to their bases.”

The US has also condemned the violence. “We call on those fighting to return to their barracks. This senseless and inexcusable violence, undertaken by those who yet again are putting self-interest above the well-being of their country and people, puts at risk everything the South Sudanese people have aspired to over the past five years,” White House national security adviser Susan Rice said in a statement.

India alert

India is planning evacuation of its nationals from South Sudan, which is witnessing escalated violence due to clashes between anti and pro government forces, and has advised Indians not to travel to the war-torn country.

In a series of tweets, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said, “South Sudan – I am aware of the developments in South Sudan. We are planning evacuation of Indian nationals.

“Please register yourself with Indian Embassy and do not panic. Indian nationals are advised not to travel to South Sudan.”

Yesterday, Indian embassy in South Sudan had asked Indians stranded there to stay calm, assuring them that they are in constant touch with authorities in India and all options are being considered to provide relief to them amid heavy fighting between South Sudans army and former rebels.

(With inputs from Reuters/PTI)

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