Africa ExPress Special Correspondent
Juba, 10th July 2016
This week we watched the unravelling of the fragile peace process in South Sudan as violence, reminiscent of the events of December 2013 erupted in Juba.
On Friday 8th July 2016, while President Salva Kirr, First Vice President Riek Machar and Second Vice President James Wani were meeting at the Presidential Palace, outside an armed confrontation erupted between the SPLA and SPLA-IO . Though the reason for the violence at the Palace is not yet known it may not be coincidental that at the same time there were rumours circulating in Juba that the meeting at the Palace was a ruse for the arrest of the First Vice President Riek Machar . The fighting at the Presidential Palace alone is reported to have resulted in the death of over 250 people civilians as well as SPLA and SPLA-IO soldiers as well as the displacement in Juba of over 3,000 people
Saturday 9th July , the day of commemoration of South Sudan 5th year of independence , appeared to be quiet. However , on Sunday 10th July, despite the reassurances given by South Sudan Foreign Affairs Minister Deng Alor, fighting in Juba resumed. Tanks and heavy artillery were seen moving from the Presidential Palace to Buluk towards the Jebel area. Heavy gunfire was reported in Gudele and Jebel areas, near the military barracks occupied by troops loyal to Riek Machar. Fighting took place near the airport. Kenya Airways has suspended flights to Juba and for the moment the Juba airport is closed. Agencies and organisations with offices in Juba are seriously considering downsizing and evacuations.
The fighting is the culmination of a rapid escalation of confrontation between the SPLA and the SPLA-IO, the latter complaining of harassment and provocation by elements of the SPLA. Of particular relevance in this regard is the fact that during the week there have been exchange of fire between the SPLA and SPLA-IO at check points ( Gudele) resulting the deaths of both SPLA and SPLO-IO soldiers. Also relevant to the escalation are the killings, by unknown gunmen, of two SPLO-IO officers: Sgt Domach Koat Pinyine and LT Col George Gismella. And the view of the SPLO – IO that the SPLA is responsible for the killings and generally engaging in in process of provocations . During the period 7th July 2016 to 10th July 2016 there have been shooting incidents outside of the UN house, the shooting of the USA Embassy vehicle with at least 7 diplomats on board as well as the deliberate shooting and wounding of Mr Salah Khaled the UNESCO.
Despite the renewed hope, after the Compromised Peace Agreement was signed in 2015 and after the arrival of Riek Machar in Juba in late April 2016 and the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity, violence continues to drive South Sudanese from their villages and towns and disrupts their lives.
Insecurity, in South Sudan, threatens communities all the way from Kajo – Keji in the South to Malakal in the North. In recent month (i.e. June 2016) fighting in Wau , the capital city of the former Western Bahr El Gazal State forced an estimated 60,000 people to seek shelter in churches and make shift camps . All indications are that in Wau we are witnessing the development of an armed opposition group. On Thursday 8th July 2016, at the same time as there was fighting in Juba, there was heavy artillery fire in Wau town forcing hundreds of civilians to flee for their lives.
Though the Greater Equatoria region (Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria). like Western Bahr El Gazal , was not part of the conflict that started in December 2013, during the last three years the situation has dramatically changed. Augmented by a combination of a rise of old mistrust as well as such decisions as the removal, in August 2015 by President Salva Kiir, of both the Governor of Western Equatoria – Joseph Bangazi Bokasoro as well as the Governor of Central Equatoria Governor Major General Clement Wani.
In addition there is also the unilateral decision taken in October 2015 to establish a federation of 28 States – basically a division of South Sudan into Ethnic States. Though the SPLA-IO and other opposition groups have been arguing for the creation of additional states and the establishment of a federal system, they were not consulted in the formulation of the 28 states. The unilateral formation of 28 states is a major issue confronting the Transitional Government of National Unity as the power sharing arrangements were designed based on the political configuration of ten states . The General perception, of the 28 state political configurations of South Sudan , is that such states are established to suit the Salva Kiir Presidency and its constituency.
It is troubling to note that in the 8 months since the IGAD Plus sponsored Compromised Peace Agreement was signed ( August 2015) , the conflict areas in South Sudan have actually expanded to in include Greater Bahr El Gazal as well as the Greater Equatoria Region.
In the Greater Equatoria Region and in particular in the Western Part of Central Equatoria and in Western Equatoria the conflict has intensified and has resulted in the displacement of more than 100,000 people. The indications are that armed opposition groups have formed in the Greater Equatoria region (i.e. Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria, and Eastern Equatoria ) and that generally the SPLA–IO has capitalised on the situation by supporting such groups this has been evidenced by the whole discussion of cantonment armed groups in the Equatoria, and the support for such action that has been given by SPLA-IO and the establishment of such cantonment sites.
As I write this short article, reports are coming of the closure of the Juba /Yei road because of the fighting in Juba as well as of fighting in Otogo Payam in Yei River County (Central Equatoria)
In addition I am receiving strong and reliable indication that what is now happening in Juba may well be the start of a coup – we just do not know who is organising it – and that in various locations of the Greater Equatoria regions armed militia are poised to take control of major towns .