Posted on | December 19, 2013 | 15 Comments
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) December 20, 2013
In 2011, millions of South Sudanese voted to forge a new nation, founded on the promise of a more peaceful and prosperous future for all of South Sudan’s people. In recent years, against great odds, South Sudan has made great progress toward breaking the cycle of violence that characterized much of its history.
Today, that future is at risk. South Sudan stands at the precipice. Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. South Sudan has a choice. Its leaders can end the violence and work to resolve tensions peacefully and democratically. Fighting to settle political scores or to destabilize the government must stop immediately. Inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence must cease. All sides must listen to the wise counsel of their neighbors, commit to dialogue and take immediate steps to urge calm and support reconciliation. South Sudan’s leaders must recognize that compromise with one’s political enemy is difficult; but recovering from unchecked violence and unleashed hatred will prove much harder.
Too much blood has been spilled and too many lives have been lost to allow South Sudan’s moment of hope and opportunity to slip from its grasp. Now is the time for South Sudan’s leaders to show courage and leadership, to reaffirm their commitment to peace, to unity, and to a better future for their people. The United States will remain a steady partner of the South Sudanese people as they seek the security and prosperity they deserve.
This is a good first step, although I’d feel better if he had sent 450 troops instead of 45, but OK. My concern is that South Sudan is flanked on the west by Central African Republican, which has recently descended into anarchy, and the Islamic Khartoum government to the North would like nothing better than instability in the South to justify intervention. The tribal aspect of the fighting in South Sudan is the real danger: “the race card is being played by both sides” — which sounds crazy to American ears, since both the Dinka and Nuer are black as coal, but tribal animosities are the bane of political stability in modern Africa.
— James Turitto (@Sunday_Jimmy) December 20, 2013
South Sudan’s government declared that its security forces are in “absolute control of the situation,” but admitted later Thursday that the central government had lost control of Bor, the capital of the country’s largest and most populous state, where barrages of gunfire were reported.
[R]ebels have taken the town of Bor.
The town, which lies about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital, Juba, was under heavy shelling, said Col. Philip Aguer, an army spokesman. Bor Mayor Mhial Majak Mhial said the town was under rebel control and heavy artillery was in use. . . .
President Salva Kiir has blamed soldiers loyal to his former vice president, Riek Machar, for starting the violence.
“The government has lost control of Jonglei state to the forces of Col. Machar and his group,” government representative Ateny Wek Ateny told CNN, referring to the state where Bor is situated.
The government could not yet confirm the number of fatalities from the violence, but “casualties are in the hundreds, including army forces and civilians,” Ateny said.
Lots more at the link. Thousands of refugees are fleeing. Even the best-case scenario — government forces swiftly defeating the pro-Machar rebels — would likely mean weeks of fighting and hundreds more casualties. And the worst-case scenario is almost unthinkable, a full-blown Rwanda-style ethnic bloodbath.
— Chris Schroen (@dumpendebat) December 20, 2013
It will probably never be clear what triggered the Dec. 15 firefight that broke out at a Juba military barracks and has now brought the world’s newest country to the brink of a civil war. In the hours after the barracks shootout, fighting spread rapidly across the city — leaving hundreds of people dead and tens of thousands displaced.
By the following afternoon, before the army could even launch its investigation, President Salva Kiir — in full military fatigues — appeared on a delayed state television broadcast to denounce the fighting as an attempted coup by his former deputy, Riek Machar, a gap-toothed mechanical engineer turned fighter in the Sudanese civil war. Hours later the police detained ten leading political figures.
Machar, who slipped out of Juba and into hiding around the time the other politicians were being rounded up, fired back in an interview with a local newspaper two days later. He called the fighting “a misunderstanding” between soldiers and accused Kiir of using the clash as a cover to remove his rivals.
Whether coup or confusion, the incident has revealed just how fragile the coalitions that once held the country together really were.
Independence has not come easy for South Sudan. After decades of war, a country the United States helped midwife into existence less than three years ago, has come to the brink of war with Sudan and watched its economy crumble after it shut down oil production early last year over a refusal to pay grossly inflated transit fees the government in Khartoum was charging to use its pipeline. Meanwhile, rebel groups have continued to crisscross vast swathes of the country, engaging soldiers and disrupting humanitarian efforts. But now South Sudan faces its most serious challenge: Unresolved political divisions have already caused hundreds of deaths and now threaten to split the country along ethnic lines. . . .