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
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.