19 December 2013

South Sudan: Civil War Fears in South Sudan As Machar Calls for Kiir's Ouster

Photo: George Mindruta/UN
Civilians arriving at the UN House compound in the southwestern outskirts of Juba, seeking protection from recent fighting in the capital.

South Sudan's former vice president has called on the country's army to depose his rival, President Salva Kiir. This comes amid mounting alarm that the world's newest nation will plunge into widespread civil war.

In an interview with RFI radio, former vice president Riek Machar said Thursday that he has "appealed to the SPLM [ruling party] and the SPLA [army] to remove Salva Kiir from the leadership of the country," adding he would only talk to the president about his departure.

"If he wants to negotiate his leaving power, since he has failed to maintain the unity of the people of South Sudan... we can talk that over, but he has to leave, because he can't unite the people when he kills them like flies and tries to incite inter-ethnic fighting."

Kiir responded, saying he would "sit down" with the former vice president, who was dismissed in July, and attempt to resolve the crisis.

Their verbal exchanges coincided with mounting international concern that the fledgling state could again be engulfed in widespread civil war.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) warned Thursday: "The scenario many feared but dared not contemplate looks frightenly possible: South Sudan, the world's newest state, is arguably on the cusp of civil war."

Thousands displaced, hundreds killed

A battle between rebels loyal to Machar and government forces broke out in the capital Juba on Sunday following an alleged unsuccessful coup attempt. More than 450 people have so far been killed and thousands displaced in the five days since the violence began.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday cited eyewitness accounts of both soldiers and rebels executing people based on their ethnicity, warning it could ultimately lead to "revenge attacks and more violence."

Soldiers in Juba "asked individuals about their ethnicity before killing or releasing them," while others were identified from traditional facial scarrings, HRW added.

Emergency talks

Mediators sent to Juba by the Ethiopia-based African Union held emergency talks on Thursday with President Kiir in a bid to achieve peace and stability in the country.

"The African Union is now meeting with the president," spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny said without giving further details. "Their message is that they are trying to broker peace between the two forces."

United Nations chief, Ban Ki-moon has warned fighting could spread.

"There is risk of this violence spreading to other states, and we have already seen some signs of this," Ban said, reiterating that the crisis "urgently needed to be dealt with through political dialog."

Bor falls

Earlier on Thursday, military spokesman Philip Aguer said government forces had lost control of Bor, which lies 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital Juba.

Bor is the capital of the eastern state of Jonglei, one of the most volatile regions in South Sudan.

"Our soldiers have lost control of Bor to the forces of [deposed Vice-President] Riek Machar late on Wednesday," Aguer said.

"There was shooting last night ... we don't have information on casualties or the displaced in the town, as operations are ongoing."

Aguer said authorities in Bor were not answering their phones, leading the government to suspect they had defected.

Fleeing the violence

Foreigners in the country are being evacuated, with the United States and Britain sending chartered flights for their citizens, others are fleeing to neighboring Uganda.

Germans, including DW staff members, have been among those evacuated.

The German armed forces said a leading officer, Lieutenant General Hans-Werner Fritz, who had been in South Sudan since last week to visit 16 Bundeswehr soldiers attached to a UN peace mission, had been picked up and flown to Entebbe, Uganda, on Thursday in a German Transall aircraft.

Fritz's departure from Malakal in South Sudan had been delayed since Tuesday.

South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, has experienced ethnic tensions since its independence from Sudan in 2011.

(AFP, AP, Reuters)

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