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.
After Sunday’s reported coup attempt, fighting has continued in South Sudan, with the military now reporting that South Sudanese rebels have taken over a key town. The unrest, which began in the capital Juba, has already killed some 500 people, sparking concerns that the conflict could spread and transform into a civil war. President Salva Kiir has accused former vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup, a claim he has denied.
Rebels Take Key Town
On Thursday, South Sudan’s army spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer, confirmed “our soldiers have lost control of Bor to the forces of Riek Machar.” The previous day, Bor’s mayor, Nicholas Nhial Maja, indicated that violence had spread to his city from Juba, which is located 200 km (125 miles) away.
Overnight, there were reports of gun battles in Bor, as renegade officers fought with troops who are still loyal to the current president. The army has indicated that Peter Gadet Yak, the commander of Division 8 unit, had rebelled, taking with him an unknown number of soldiers. It currently remains unclear as to whether troops loyal to Mr. Machar were involved in the fighting.
Bor is the capital of Jonglei state. Prior to the current violence, Bor has been seen as being one of the most volatile areas in South Sudan.
While the latest violence has been confined to Jonglei, tensions are also high in the states of Unity and Upper Nile. However in Juba, where the violence initially erupted on Sunday, the situation appears to be calmer, with Col. Aguer reporting that “the streets are busy and shops are open.
Meanwhile, officials at the United Nations have expressed concern about a possible civil war erupting between the country’s two main ethnic groups, the Dinka of current President Kiir and the Nuer, of Mr. Machar. The UN has called for political dialogue in order to end the crisis, with the Ugandan government indicating that its president has been asked by the UN to mediate between the two sides. A delegation composed of East African foreign minister is due to fly to Juba in order to try and arrange talks. The UN peacekeeping mission has indicated that it is sheltering civilians in five state capitals, including Juba, Bor and Bentiu, which is the main town of the oil-producing state of Unity.
Brtiain and the United States have already sent out planes in order to airlift their nations out of the country.
On Monday, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir indicated that an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to his former deputy Riek Machar had been put down.
The President further noted that after a night of heavy fighting between soldiers in the presidential guard, the government was now in full control of the capital, Juba. A night time curfew was put in place and a number of arrests were reportedly made. Several people were reported injured and hundreds have fled to a US base.
Fighting broke out in the capital city overnight and intensified in the early morning, with reports of continuous gunfire and several explosions being heard. The city’s airport has been closed and the state TV channel SSTV went off air for several hours. Shortly after it came back on air, SSTV broadcasted an address by the President, who indicated that the violence “was an attempted coup,” noting that the government was now in full control and that the attackers were being chased down. The president has blamed soldiers loyal to Riek Machar, who he dismissed as vice-president in July, for starting the fighting in the capital. Machar was dismissed after mounting public criticism at the government’s failure to deliver better public services in the oil-producing nation.
The fighting erupted when unidentified uniformed personnel opened fire during a meeting of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). This was followed by an attack on army headquarters near the university, which was carried out “by a group of soldiers allied to the former vice president Dr. Riek Machar and his group.” During his address, the president stipulated that he “…will not allow or tolerate such incidents once again in our nation. I strongly condemn these criminal actions in the strongest terms possible.” He vowed that those responsible would have to stand “before the appropriate law institution.”
On Monday, the president declared a curfew, running from 6PM to 6AM each night.
Overview of South Sudan
South Sudan’s is the world’s newest nation. Located in central Africa, and bordered by six countries, South Sudan is rich in oil, however following decades of civil war, it is also one of the least developed regions on earth.
In 2011, South Sudan overwhelmingly voted to breakaway from Sudan. Since then, there have been a number of small-armed rebellions, border clashes and deadly cattle feuds. However these have all typically occurred in places away from the capital Juba.
The government’s main concern has been to get the oil flowing following disagreements with Sudan. Production of oil only resumed in April of this year. In turn, signs of tension within the country’s governing SPLM party became evident in July, when President Salva Kiir, from the majority Dinka group, removed his deputy Riek Machar, who comes from the second largest Nuer group, from power.
Over the past week, the president of the United Nations Security Council, Gerard Araud, who has stated that the violence in South Sudan had the potential to be a “fully-fledged war throughout the country” between the Dinka and Nuer communities. In turn, up to 20,000 people have already taken refuge in the UN mission in Juba, with some indicating that Nuer residents were being targeted in the fighting. Furthermore, after decades of conflict, the country is also awash with guns.