Fighting in Sudan

 

The fighting in South Sudan has become much more serious over the last week, since President Salva Kiir accused his sacked rival Riek Machar of organising an attempted coup. The two men are veterans of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement which fought a long war for independence culminating in the creation of the new state in 2011. This conflict is the most severe it has faced and could set back most of the real progress South Sudan has made if what could become a civil war is not stopped.

Making the transition from independence movement to governing party is difficult for any organisation, on top of the problems facing one of the world’s least developed but oil-rich states. Mr Machar was dismissed from the government along with other ministers last July and has since been in hiding. He accuses Mr Kiir of corruption, incompetence, tribalism, failing to realise the country’s potential and shifting to authoritarianism ahead of next year’s presidential elections, in which Machar will stand as an alternative candidate.

Independent reports, including those by this newspaper’s special correspondents last week, confirm some of this picture, even if Mr Machar too must accept some responsibility for such failings. He denies organising a coup, but the speedy transformation of armed clashes in the capital Juba into more general fighting – including for strategic oil installations – shows a real power struggle is under way.

Although it originated politically, if unchecked it will unavoidably mobilise the country’s ethnic divisions between the most populous Dinka and the largest Nuer peoples. That would be a tragedy for the new state, facing huge infrastructural problems, but which has already received large amounts of aid and investment, notably from China to which most of its oil is exported.

International action by the United Nations, the African Union and neighbouring states is urgently required to stop the fighting and agree on a political settlement allowing next year’s elections go ahead peacefully.

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