Renewed South Sudan attacks have left about 200 people dead and more than 20,000 stranded as they left their homes in search of security.
The crossfire was reportedly instigated by clashes between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those of the first Vice President Riek Machar. The two leaders have been in a power struggle since the country gained its independence from Sudan in 2011.
The world’s youngest country was marking the fifth anniversary of its independence this weekend. But instead of jubilation as a sovereign state, citizens remained indoors as the fear of looming war spread throughout the capital, Juba and across the nation.
While there is some form of calm after the President and the Vice President appealed for a cease-fire, businesses have remained closed, foreigners evacuated, with Uganda sending its heavily-armed troops to evacuate citizens trapped in South Sudan’s capital. The US has also deployed 47 extra troops to protect its citizens and the US embassy following the outbreak of crisis which could escalate into war.
Situation in South Sudan remains precarious
On Tuesday the UN Security Council called for an immediate end to hostilities between the two forces of Kiir and Machar to thwart the spread of violence. The situation, although calm now, remains dangerous and could turn violent if not well handled, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council.
“We remain very worried about the potential for the resumption of violence and spill-over into other parts of the country, as we have seen in the past,” he said.
Due to the uncertainty of the matter, Machar is reported to have withdrawn with his troops to outside Juba, his spokesman said, even as a ceasefire entered its third day. Although in the hideout, Machar has reassured people that he and his army are not planning war as it was witnessed in 2013.
“We had to move away from our base (in Juba) to avoid further confrontation,” Machar's spokesman James Gatdet Dak in Nairobi told Reuters, saying he was in contact with Machar's forces. “He is around the capital. I cannot say the location.”
Speaking to the news agency, Gatdet Dak said Machar “is not returning to the bush nor is he organizing for war.” He added that the leader would return to Juba when ceasefire details were worked out.
Many people fear that the current events might turn out like the December 2013 happenings, when a two-year civil war erupted in Juba, following the sacking of Machar as Kiir’s deputy. Machar withdrew his forces from Juba and launched a full-scale insurgency.
Although, Machar is calling for an outside force to be deployed to act as a “buffer” between his and Kiir’s forces, he envisions that an implementation of a joint command, an integrated armed force and a joint police force securing Juba, as was enlisted in the peace deal but not yet implemented, would be a solution to South Sudan’s issues.
In August 2015, Kiir and Machar signed the peace deal, which was not implemented immediately following disagreements over details. In a bid to cement the peace and unity process, Machar returned to Juba in April and was reinstated as Kiir's deputy.
Image credit: Associated Press