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.
On Thursday, attackers stormed a United Nations base, where civilians had taken refuge, in South Sudan. According to officials, two Indian peacekeepers were killed, with many others feared dead.
United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq reported that officials at the UN had lost contact with the base at Akobo in Jonglei state and that the fate of more than thirty ethnic Dinka civilians sheltering there was also unknown. UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, who strongly condemned the attack, stated “we have received reports of people killed and injured and are in the process of verifying.”
India’s UN ambassador Asoke Mukerji confirmed that two Indian peacekeepers were “targeted and killed” in the assault on Akobo. An injured Indian soldier was taken to hospital. A minute’s silence for the soldiers was held at a UN meeting on peacekeeping in New York. UN deputy spokesman Haq further noted that forty other Indian peacekeepers, along with six UN police advisors, were moved to safety at a nearby South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) camp. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will send sixty reinforcements and aircraft in order to pick up the peacekeepers however they are not scheduled to arrive in Akobo until Friday as it is difficult to get to. The latest attack was reportedly carried out by ethnic Nuer youths.
In the wake of this recent attack, the UN Security Council called emergency consultations to occur on Friday as the crisis in South Sudan, where hundreds have been killed this week in battles between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, continues to mount. A statement released by a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon indicated that the UN leader was “appalled” by the attack on Akobo. The statement added that if reports of civilian deaths were confirmed, “those responsible must be held accountable for their crimes.” Ban also noted “the future of this young nation requires its current leadership to do everything possible to prevent South Sudan descending into the chaos that would be such a betrayal of the ideals behind its long struggle for independence.”
Meanwhile in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, officials have indicated that UN forces are protecting 1,000 civilians who have gathered around a base. They are also protecting the Bor airstrip. Bor fell to Riek Machar’s forces on Wednesday.
Since clashes between rival factions of the army erupted on Sunday, hundreds of people have been killed in the capital city Juba. UN deputy spokesman Haq indicated on Thursday that there were unconfirmed reports of several students killed by security forces at Juba University. According to a spokesman for the university, several hundred students have stayed on the university campus and have requested protection from UN forces. Between 2,000 and 5,000 civilians have also gathered at the Kator complex in Juba. They have also requested help from the UNMISS mission. In turn, more than 15,000 people have sought shelter at two UN and one World Food Programme (WFP) compounds in Juba.
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.