South Sudan’s leaders call for ceasefire after hundreds killed
President and vice-president order forces to halt fighting after bloody weekend
South Sudanese policemen and soldiers are seen along a street following renewed fighting in South Sudan’s capital Juba, on July 10th, 2016. Photograph: Reuters
South Sudan’s president and vice-president ordered their rival forces to cease hostilities on Monday after days of fighting threatened to plunge the nation back into civil war and bring further instability to an impoverished region of Africa.
Fighting erupted four days ago in the capital Juba between loyalists 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.
The violence, which has killed hundreds of people, broke out as the world’s newest nation prepared to mark five years of independence from Sudan on July 9th.
Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said Mr Kiir and Mr Machar had spoken by phone on Monday, a day which saw tanks and helicopters involved in some of the fiercest clashes yet.
“All the commanders of [Kiir’s] forces are directed to cease any hostility and abide by the order and control their forces,” Mr Ateny told Reuters. “President Salva Kiir is determined to carry on his partnership with Riek Machar.”
Mr Machar responded by ordering his troops to stand down. “The president has declared a unilateral ceasefire, I want to reciprocate the declaration of unilateral ceasefire,” he told the independent Eye Radio.
However, much is not clear about the latest violence in Juba, including what the objective of either side has been and how much control Mr Kiir and Mr Machar have over soldiers.
The fighting has raised fears of a return to the civil war that erupted in late 2013 and broadly ran along ethnic lines, pitting Mr Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against Mr Machar, a Nuer. The conflict killed thousands of people, forced more than 2.5 million 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. A new flare-up risks driving yet more people to refugee camps in neighbouring nations and further destabilising a region in the centre of Africa already plagued by myriad woes.
The UN Security Council on Sunday demanded Mr Kiir and Mr Machar rein in their forces and end the fighting. The UN mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, expressed its “outrage” after its bases in Juba were caught in the cross-fire between the two sides and two Chinese peacekeepers were killed.
Mr Kiir and Mr Machar have long been rivals, both in politics and on the battlefield. The civil war that broke out in 2013 came a few months after Mr Kiir sacked Mr 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 Mr Machar finally returned in April after months of wrangling about terms of the pact.
Experts say the failure to swiftly implement key elements of the deal, such as integrating and demobilising their forces, has allowed tension to fester and risked igniting a new conflict.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged the security council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, sanction leaders and commanders who blocked the implementation of a peace deal and fortify the UNMISS mission.
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.
UNMISS said gunfire had erupted on Monday around the UN headquarters in the Jebel area of Juba and also around a base near the airport. It said UN sites had been hit in exchanges of fire, killing eight and injuring 67. China’s foreign ministry said two of its peacekeepers were killed.