By Brad Phillips
By now, the world is well aware of the crisis in South Sudan. On the evening of December 15th, 2013, fighting broke out in the capital city of Juba.
The shooting allegedly began as an argument within the army barracks between Dinka and Nuer forces.
It quickly spread throughout the city of Juba as members of the security forces and the presidential guard went on a rampage– targeting primarily Nuer citizens.
Within a few days, dissident factions within the SPLA peeled off and launched reprisals and counter offensives against mostly Dinka citizens in several major cities including Bor, Bentiu and Malakal.
The Government of South Sudan claims its action was in response to an attempted coup led by critics of President Salva Kiir, most of whom are former cabinet members who were sacked in a July, 2013 purge. This allegation has been vehemently denied by the accused, 11 of whom remain incarcerated in Juba.
It has been reported that approximately 1,500 Nuer people were killed in Juba, and as many as 3,000 Dinkas were killed in reprisal in the town of Bor. The total number of casualties in the whole of South Sudan is estimated to be more than 10,000 persons. Due to the restricted access to most of these areas, it is really hard to get a precise count, but it is likely that the casualty numbers are much higher.
Regardless of whether a coup was attempted, accused former Vice President Riek Machar has pronounced himself as the most qualified leader of South Sudan and called for the overthrow of President Salva Kiir.
Riek’s hand in unleashing ethnic cleansing against Dinkas in Jau, Bentiu, Malakal and Bor discredits his initial denials of not planning a coup.
He has also refused all efforts to order his forces to stand down and agree a ceasefire without preconditions so that peaceful mediation can be implemented and the young nation of South Sudan can avoid the path of self-destruction.
During the past few weeks, entire cities have been destroyed. “Bentiu simply does not exist anymore,” commented one UN worker in the oil-rich capital city of Unity State. In what appears to be a repeat of Riek Machar’s 1991 massacre of Dinkas in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, rebel forces have destroyed the city.
Both sides have been accused of extrajudicial killings, rape and other war crimes. The UN is currently investigating the issue of war crimes and will be publishing their findings within the next several weeks. One of the most heart-breaking stories reported details of how rebels entered the hospital in Bor and raped and shot dozens of patients whilst they lay in their beds.
Juba is now an armed camp. The Ugandan government has deployed its forces there in support of President Kiir. The battle for the key towns of Bentiu, Malakal and Bor rage on and control of these towns pass back and forth like a tennis match between the government and rebels.
Within a few short weeks, the world’s newest and most underdeveloped nation has gone back more than 10 years, and people who once fled their homes are now forced to flee– again.
And, as always, the old enemy in Khartoum is ready to jump at the opportunity to undermine South Sudan’s future.
Sudan expert Eric Reeves put it this way:
“The stakes for the country as a whole could not be greater. If Riek is as good as his word and marches on Juba, then South Sudan will almost certainly disintegrate. Ethnic violence, already reported in highly alarming terms in various locations besides Bor and Juba, will spread rapidly; insecurity for humanitarians will become intolerable in many locations where human need is greatest; and the deterrent effect of the SPLA in keeping Khartoum’s military forces (the Sudan Armed Forces and various militia allies and proxies) in check along the border will disappear.
For the ruthless opportunists in the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime, the time to re-draw the North/South boundary will have arrived, and the oil fields of Unity and Upper Nile states may be seized under color of ‘protecting’ a mutual and shared natural resource. Without a functioning central government and without oil revenues, it is difficult to imagine anything remaining of a true national state of South Sudan.”
As of this writing, cease fire talks are underway in Addis Ababa. It is our hope and prayer that by the time you read this, a ceasefire will be in effect and honored by all parties involved.
The present conflict is regularly couched in terms of “tribalism” by the international media. But the reality is that the conflict is fundamentally political in nature. But like all political fights, the competing sides recruit allies by appealing to old divisions and opening old wounds.
In the few short weeks since the fighting began, more than 500,000 people have fled into the bush. Another 100,000 have fled the country.
These new IDPs are facing critical humanitarian needs including access to water, food, shelter and basic medical services.
Reeves again: “Moreover, the continuing violence—extending further and further throughout South Sudan—makes humanitarian relief difficult if not impossible to deliver in many locations. Displacement in and of itself creates new sources of tension, and has the potential to spread violence even more widely… USAID reports that less than half the displaced population has been reached by relief organizations (South Sudan Crisis Fact Sheet #19, January 21, 2014).”
Right now, PPF workers are working alongside local partners and churches in South Sudan to respond to this humanitarian crisis by providing water, shelter, food, medicine and other lifesaving relief to those affected.
The return to war has forced many NGOs to withdraw completely as insecurity has made access extremely dangerous and difficult. At PPF, we are committed to stand alongside our brothers and sisters in South Sudan during this most tragic and difficult time of their history.
Please continue to stand with us in prayer and financial support as we endeavor to demonstrate Active Compassion to the people of South Sudan. I encourage you to prayerfully consider making a special gift to respond to this humanitarian emergency.
Editor’s Note: When this article was first written, the warring factions in South Sudan were in peace negotiations in Addis Ababa. We rejoice that within the last few days, the government of South Sudan and the forces of former VP Riek Machar have signed a cessation of hostilities agreement. Hopefully this will put to end five weeks of horrendous violence that has displaced more than half a million persons and left at least 10,000 dead. We also hope this means humanitarian access will now be possible to help many of the survivors trapped by the conflict.
Although we can be thankful for the agreement, there is not a clearly defined way forward. Wounds are still open, and the road to peace and reconciliation is very challenging.
Let us continue to pray for God’s mercy and grace in this tragic situation and be sure to do our part in engaging in active compassion for the persecuted. PPF is in the field right now assisting many victims of the violence. Your generous assistance with our relief programs would be greatly appreciated at this time.