On Tuesday, 26 April, South Sudan’s rebel chief Riek Machar finally returned to the capital Juba, where he was sworn in as vice president of a unity government that was formed in order to end more than two years of civil war in the world’s newest country. His return, which was delayed by a week, is seen as a critical step towards cementing a fragile peace agreement that was brokered in August 2015.
The conflict in South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, has pitted government troops loyal to President Salva Kiir against those of Machar, who was dismissed as vice president five months before the war began in December 2013. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than two million people forced from their homes.
Key Events in the War
- 15 December – Heavy gunfire erupts in Juba, where tensions have been rising since July when Machar was dismissed as vice president. Kiir blames Machar for an attempted coup, however Machar denies this and accuses the president of purging his rivals. Fighting spreads and rebels seize control of key towns.
- 10 – 20 January – Uganda sends troops to back Kiir. Government troops recapture the northern city of Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, and Bor, the capital of the eastern state of Jonglei.
- 15 – 17 April – According to the United Nations, more than 350 civilians are killed in Bentiu and Bor.
- 26 August – A UN helicopter is shot down, with three onboard killed. Each side blames the other.
- 1 February – Kiir and Machar sign a new agreement to end the fighting, in what is the latest in a series of deals. However like the others, it is broken within days.
- 30 June – According to a UN rights report, South Sudan’s army raped then torched girls alive inside their homes. The report warns of “widespread human rights abuses.” Rebels have been accused of similar atrocities.
- 2 July – UN and US sanctions decided against six leaders from both sides.
- 17 August – Machar signs a peace agreement in Addis Ababa.
- 26 August – Kiir signs the peace accord, however he issues a list of “serious reservations.” Fighting continues.
- 3 October – Kiir nearly triples the number of regional states, undermining a key power-sharing clause of the peace agreement.
- 28 October – African Union investigators list atrocities committed, which include forced cannibalism and dismemberment.
- 5 November – UN experts warn that killings, rapes and abductions continue and that both sides are stockpiling weapons. Over two dozens armed groups are involved in fighting characterized by shifting alliances, opportunism and historic grievances.
- 27 November – The UN reports that some 16,000 children have been forced to fight, amidst a growing humanitarian crisis. More than 2.8 million people, almost a quarter of the population, needs emergency food aid.
- 8 February – UN agencies warn that at least 40,000 people are being starved to death in the war zone, with rival forces blocking aid.
- 12 February – Kiir reappoints Machar as vice president.
- 11 April – A 1,370-strong rebel force completes their arrival in Juba ahead of Machar’s expected return.
- 12 April – South Sudan’s rebel deputy chief Alfred Ladu Gore arrives in the capital.
- 25 April – South Sudan’s top rebel military commander Simon Gatwech Dual returns to the capital.
- 26 April – Machar returns to Juba and is sworn in as vice president. UN Security General Ban Ki-moon calls for a new unity government to be set up immediately.
On Wednesday (26 August) South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is expected to sign a peace agreement, which is aimed at ending a 20-months civil war in the world’s newest country, which broke away from Sudan in 2011.
President Kiir met with regional leaders on Wednesday ahead of an expected signing of a peace agreement with rebels. While at least seven ceasefire deals have been agreed, they have all been shattered within either hours or days. Furthermore, concerns over the past couple of days have emerged after the South Sudanese government announced that while its president would sign the agreement, “reservations” about the deal remained, and it currently remains unclear if President Kiir will sign all its clauses.
The latest proposed agreement, which was signed on 17 August by rebel chief and former vice president Riek Machar, sets out clear steps towards power sharing, with fixed timeframes for its implementation. The agreement has been backed by the regional eight-nation bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), as well as the United Nations, African Union, Britain, China, Norway and the United States.
Here are the key points of the 72-page agreement.
- Fighting must end immediately with a “permanent ceasefire” beginning 72 hours after the deal is singed.
- Troops on either side have 30 days to gather for “separation, assembly and cantonment,” or confinement to barracks, with their weapons kept in storage, with a security review required before an eventual merger of the two forces.
- All foreign forces embroiled in the war, most of which are from Uganda who back Kiir, must leave within 45 days while foreign militias, including rebels from neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur and Nuba mountain regions, must also be disarmed and sent home.
- No troops are allowed within a 25-kilometre (15-mile) radius of the capital Juba, with only presidential guard members, police and guards protecting infrastructure being allowed to remain in the city.
- Child soldiers and prisoners of war must be released and free access given to aid workers.
- The agreement gives rebels the post of “first vice president,” alongside the current vice president. This effectively means that Riek March would likely regain the post which he occupied before he was dismissed by President Kiir in July 2013, just six months before the war began.
- Signatories also take responsibility for the war, “apologising unconditionally” for the tens of thousands killed in a conflict marked by widespread atrocities on both sides.
- Under the agreement, a “transitional government of national unity” will take office 90 days after the signing of the deal and will govern for a period of 30 months.
- Elections must be held 60 days before the end of the transitional government’s mandate. This effectively means that if President signs the agreement now, elections will be due to take place in early 2018.
- At a national level, the government will have 53 percent of ministerial posts, with the rebels attaining 33 percent. The remaining seats will be for other parties.
- In seven of the 10 states, the government will get 85 percent of ministerial posts, however in the battleground states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile, the government will get 46 percent will the rebels will have 40 percent of posts.
- In the states of Unity and Upper Nile, the main oil regions, which have been amongst the hardest hit areas by the war, the rebels will get to select the powerful post of governor.
War Crime Court
- In order to investigate “all aspects of human rights violations,” a Commission of Truth, Reconciliation and Healing will be set up while a “hybrid court, set up in collaboration with the African Union, will try crimes, including possible genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
- Those indicted cannot be part of the transitional government, with the deal stating, “no one shall be exempted from criminal responsibility on account of their official capacity as a government official, an elected official or claiming the defense of superior orders.”
Efforts to broker a ceasefire in South Sudan continue as a United States special envoy, along with other mediators, hold a meeting with rebel leader Riek Machar.
Reports have indicated that US special envoy Donald Booth met with Mr Machar at an undisclosed location in South Sudan. Mr Booth later indicated that mediators would continue to press for the release of jailed associates of Mr Machar for them to attend peace talks in Ethiopia. A rebel spokesman has also indicated that a ceasefire would be signed if Mr Machar’s associates were freed. Hussein Mar Nyout has also dismissed claims made by the South Sudanese government that is forces were now in full control of Unity State. He also described as baseless a government allegation that forces loyal to Mr Machar had damaged oil facilities there.
Calm Restored in the Central African Republic Following Leaders Departure
In the Central African Republic, after weeks of sectarian clashes, restive calm has returned to the streets Bangui, with banks, offices and markets re-opening. The country’s interim leader has also announced that the days of looting and revenge attacks were over.
Sources on the ground have reported that local residents of Bangui now feel safe enough to leave their homes across the city. The police have also returned to the streets while some local residents have stated that the city is the busiest it has been for a year. Many believe that this feels like a turning point as in recent weeks, there has always been at least one district, whether Muslim or Christian, where violence has resulted in people staying at home.
Following the rebel leader’s resignation on Friday, interim leader and speaker of the provisional parliament Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet vowed that the “anarchy” that has gripped the country would be swiftly brought to an end, adding that “the chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over.” He also issued a stern warning to warring militiamen from the Seleka group and the anti-balaka Christian fighters set up to oppose them. Speaking at a police headquarters in the capital Bangui, he stated “to the ex-Seleka, to the anti-balaka and the lovers of looting, I’m giving you a severe warning: The party is over.”
The return of soldiers and police to duty was another encouraging sign for the CAR after weeks of horrific sectarian violence. Over the weekend, hundreds of people lined up to re-enlist in the army, following an appeal from the chief of staff. Many of them had either deserted after the rebel takeover, or left in order to join the vigilante groups.
In recent months, the capital city has been riven by sectarian violence, with about 20% of the 4.6 million population said to have fled their homes.
Following months of fighting, Michel Djotodia seized power in March 2013, effectively becoming the CAR’s first Muslim leader. Although he later disbanded his Seleka rebels, attacks on Christian civilians around the country continued, prompting the formation of vigilante groups, which targeted Muslims. On 10 January 2014, following intense pressure from the CAR’s neighbor’s, Michel Djotodia, along with Prime Minister Nicholas Tiengaye, stepped down. The transitional national council now has two weeks in order to select a new President.
While the situation in Bangui is calm, the mood could quickly turn. On Monday, the Redo Cross reported that about fifteen people were killed ove the weekend, confirming that a degree of tension throughout the country
South Sudan Reconciliation “Possible” As Two Sides Meet
A chief negotiator in South Sudan has indicated that rebels are confident that “full reconciliation” can be achieved with the government. Taban Deng’s comments come as the two sides hold ceasefire talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. South Sudan’s Information Minister Michel Makuel has also indicated that the government is committed to ending the conflict. Fresh violence erupted in South Sudan on 15 December 2013, resulting in around 1,000 people being killed since then. In turn, nearly 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting, which has seen clashes between members of the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.
After days of disputes pertaining to procedural issues and the agenda, direct talks between the two sides finally began on Sunday in Addis Ababa. On Tuesday, chief mediators Seyoum Mesfin and Lazurus Sumbeiywo flew to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, in order to hold talks with President Salva Kiir. A major issue to be raised during the talks will be the demand made by Riek Machar to release twelve people who have been detained over allegations of a coup plot. The president has so far repeatedly ruled out their release, stating that they will face justice. Mr Machar however denies that there was a coup plot, stating instead that the current president’s forces are responsible for the violence, which is being used as a mechanism to consolidate his hold on power ahead of elections which are due in 2015.
Since fighting began in mid-December of last year, both sides have been under intense diplomatic pressure to end the fighting in South Sudan, which is the world’s newest state. On Monday. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, met with the two parties in Addis Ababa and urged them to negotiate a ceasefire. China is a major investor in South Sudan’s oil industry. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir also held talks with President Kiir on Monday. According to Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti, the two leaders were “in consultations about the deployment of a mixed force to protect the oilfields in the South.
When it seceded from Sudan in 2011, the South ended up with most of the oilfields however it has to export the oil using pipelines through ports in Sudan’s territory. With fighting escalating over the past few weeks, the government in Khartoum, Sudan now fears that the fighting that is occurring in the South will disrupt its oil revenue.
Despite the two sides hold talks in Ethiopia, fighting in South Sudan has continued. On Monday, heavy fighting between President Kiir’s and Mr Machar’s forces occurred near Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. Army spokesman Philip Aguer indicated that it was only a “matter of time” before Bor was recaptured from the rebels. The United Nations also announced on Monday that militiamen had taken control of a UN food warehouse in Bentiu and that UN vehicles had been commandeered in the rebel-held town of Bor.
On Monday, the South Sudanese government announced that it had agreed to a cessation of hostilities with rebel leader David Yau Yau. The government, which has been fighting Mr Yau Yau for nearly two years, feared that his troops, which are stationed in Jonglei state, would joint the new rebellion.
First Chemical Weapons Leave Syria
Meanwhile in Syria, the United Nations has confirmed that the first consignment of chemical weapons has left the Syrian port of Latakia. Officials at the UN have indicated that Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian frigates are escorting the consignment. A previous attempt to collect the arms was aborted after Syrian officials failed to deliver the toxic chemicals to the collection point in Latakia. The “most critical” chemical include about twenty tonnes of blister agent sulphur mustard.
The weapons are due to be taken to Italy, where they will be loaded onto a US Navy Ship and shipped into international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board. Removing the most dangerous chemicals is the first step of a UN-backed agreement that aims to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of this year. The agreement was brokered by Russian and American officials after rockets filled with nerve agent sarin were fired at three towns in the Ghouta agricultural belt located around the Syrian capital Damascus on 21 August 2013. The attack resulted in the deaths of hundreds of peoples. While Western powers have indicated that the assault could have only bee carried out Syrian government forces, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has blamed the attack on rebel fighters.
Route of First Consignment
- The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from twelve sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
- Russia has also provided security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment’s. Meanwhile China has sent ten ambulances and surveillance cameras while Finland has sent an emergency response team in the event that accidents should occur.
- Denmark and Norway will provide cargo ships and military escorts in order to take the chemicals to an as yet unnamed port in Italy. Russia and China will also provide naval escorts.
- Upon arrival in Italy, the “most critical” chemical weapons will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, in order to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Meanwhile less toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.
On Monday, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir confirmed that South Sudanese troops are preparing to enter the rebel-held town of Bor. Earlier, the South Sudanese army confirmed that Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity State, had been taken by fighters supporting former vice-president Riek Machar. Meanwhile in northern Nigeria, a Lebanese businessman has been kidnapped.
President Kiir told Parliament that the army was “ready to move,” adding that the counter-attack had been delayed in order to allow US citizens to be airlifted out. Bor, which lies in the state of Jonglei, was captured by rebels loyal for former vice president Riek Machar last Wednesday. During his address to Parliament, the President repeated his offer to hold talks with Mr. Machar, stating that a delegation of East African foreign minister had offered to mediate the talks. However he did note that Mr. Machar would have “to come to the table without any precondition.”
The mounting ethnic violence over the past week has raised fears that clashes may turn into a civil war. While the president, a member of the majority Dinka ethnic group, has accused Mr. Machar, a member of the Nuer community, of attempting a coup, the former vice president has denied these claims. Mr. Machar has also since indicated that the president has been carrying out a purge of his rivals.
Over the past week, United Nations humanitarian staff in South Sudan have reported numerous blood scenes and summary executions. A spokesman for the UN in the capital, Juba, has also indicated that UN compounds throughout the country were sheltering more than 40,000 civilians. Joseph Contreas further added that the UN was “doing everything possible to remain in touch with key leaders and seek a peaceful way out of this conflict.”
A statement released by UN humanitarian co-ordinator Toby Lanzer has indicated that an estimated 17,000 people had sought protection in the UN peacekeeping base in Bor. Mr. Lanzar further noted that aid workers are under intense pressure, with humanitarian compounds looted in several locations, adding “we are looking at a massive increase in need and I am engaging all parties to ensure that civilians are protected and that aid workers are able to access people who need our help.”
Over the weekend, the US deployed extra troops in order to help evacuate Americans and other foreigners. In Bor, three US military aircraft were fired upon on Saturday, forcing officials to abort the evacuation. On Sunday, the US re-entered using civilian US and UN helicopters. The UK is deploying, what is expected to be a final plane, on Monday to help Britons flee South Sudan.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, gunmen have kidnapped a Lebanese businessman in the northern Nigerian city of Kano after militants stormed his factory.
Police spokesman Magaji Majiya has indicated that police have launched a manhunt to arrest the attackers, adding that a man and woman were wounded when the militants opened fire as they took the man hostage. On the grounds sources have reported that police in Kano have mounted checkpoints throughout the city as they attempt to track down the hostage takers.
Police officials have identified the Lebanese national as Hassan Zein. Zein, the Managing Director of M.C. Plastic Company, was seized in the early hours of Monday from the company’s premises in the Sharada Industrial area of Kano. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. While officials have indicated that there are suspicions that militant Islamists carried out the attack, the possibility that a criminal gang took the man hostage for ransom cannot be ruled out at this time.
This is not the first reported incident of a foreigner being kidnapped in the northern town of Kano. Last year, a German engineer, Edgar Fritz Raupach, was abducted in Kano by militant Islamists. He was later killed during a security force operation to rescue him. While it was not clear which group had abducted Mr. Raupach, a video purported to be from al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing, AQIM, demanded at the time that Germany free a woman jailed on terror charges in return for his release.