Security Update: South Sudan and Nigeria (23 December 2013)December 23, 2013 in Nigeria, South Sudan
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.