The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

#SouthSudan: It’s Civil War Now

Posted on | December 23, 2013 | 12 Comments

There has been a lot of verbal tiptoeing among journalists writing about the crisis in South Sudan, said to be “on the verge” of civil war, etc. But the country’s former vice president, Riek Machar, has now admitted that he is leading the rebels, some army officers have defected to Machar’s side, bloody tribal violence has erupted, foreign nationals are evacuating, U.S. troops were wounded by rebel fire, a key oil region is reported under rebel control, total casualties are estimated to exceed 1,000 — it’s past the “verge.” This is a civil war:

Rebels have seized the capital of a key oil-producing state in South Sudan, government officials said, as fears grew that the latest violence would spiral into an all-out civil war in the world’s newest country.
The United Nations said it was trying to send more peacekeeping forces to the East African state, as foreign powers urged an immediate end to the fighting.
The violence, which began in the capital, Juba, has spread farther north in one week, killing hundreds of people and displacing tens of thousands.
Military spokesman Phillip Aguer told CNN that Bentiu is currently not under government control, after falling to troops loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, who was ousted from his post in the summer.
On its Twitter feed, the South Sudanese government wrote: “Bentiu is not currently in our hands. It is in the hands of a commander who has declared support for Machar.”
Bentiu is the capital of Unity state, the source of oil — crucial to impoverished South Sudan’s economy — that flows through pipelines north into Sudan for export.

We’re clearly past the “teetering on the brink” phase:

Civilian helicopters evacuated US citizens from a city in South Sudan that has seen bouts of heavy machine-gun fire, but 3,000 citizens from countries including Canada, Britain and Kenya remain trapped there, a UN official has said.
Toby Lanzer, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator, said Australians, Ugandans and Ethiopians were also among 15,000 people seeking protection at a UN base in Bor, a city that could see increasing violence in coming days.
The death toll from a week of violence in South Sudan has likely surpassed 1,000, though there are no firm numbers available, he said on Monday. The number of internal refugees is likely to exceed 100,000, said Lanzer, who is seeking urgent financial assistance from the international community.
“I can’t afford any delays from donor capitals right now,” he said in a phone call. “Never has there been a greater time of need in South Sudan.”
Bor is the city where three US military aircraft were fired upon on Saturday, forcing the Ospreys – advanced helicopter-airplane hybrids – to abort their evacuation mission. On Sunday, the US evacuated its citizens by civilian American and UN helicopters.
The US over the past week has evacuated 380 Americans and 300 others from South Sudan, which has witnessed vicious, ethnically targeted violence. Military commanders loyal to the country’s ousted vice-president have defected and say they are in control of areas that hold lucrative oil fields.
Lanzer, who spent the weekend in Bor, said the city was the scene of tense, sporadic clashes and “fairly consistent gunfire and heavy machine-gun fire”.

When the army announces a “major offensive”? It’s a civil war:

South Sudan’s army was poised for a major offensive against rebel forces, the president said Monday, as the country slid towards civil war despite international peace efforts.
Expectations of a major upsurge in fighting came as the United Nations warned that the situation in the world’s youngest nation was fast unravelling, with hundreds of thousands of civilians now at risk.
Fighting has gripped South Sudan for more than a week, after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar, who was fired from the government in July, of attempting a coup.
Machar denied the claim and accused Kiir of carrying out a vicious purge of his rivals. Vowing to oust Kiir, his forces have since seized the town of Bor, capital of the powder-keg eastern Jonglei state and located just 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Juba, as well as the town of Bentiu, capital of crucial oil-producing Unity state.
The army is “now ready to move to Bor,” Kiir told parliament, adding that the counter-attack was delayed until US citizens had been airlifted out.
The comments came despite days of shuttle diplomacy by African nations and calls from the United States, Britain and the United Nations for the fighting to stop in the country, which won independence from Sudan just two and a half years ago, in July 2011.
US special envoy Donald Booth arrived Monday in Juba in a bid to push peace efforts, as the top UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said the situation was rapidly deteriorating.
“It would have been difficult one week ago to imagine that things would have unravelled to this extent,” Lanzer told AFP. “There are hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who’ve fled into the bush or back to their villages to get out of harm’s way.”

So the “peace efforts” have so far failed, Machar’s rebellion is an ongoing enterprise, and everybody can stop pretending that this is merely a “crisis” and call it what it is: A civil war.