The official UN count of displaced persons--"more than 120,000"--almost certainly understates, quite significantly, the number of people who have been forced from their homes by violence. Again, on December 22 the UN's Lanzer declared that, "'As we go to bed tonight, there are hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who've fled into the bush or back to their villages to get out of harm's way'" (BBC, December 22, 2013). Daniel Howden, writing in The Guardian (December 23, 2013) reports:
A veteran aid worker, who has been assessing the scale and nature of the killings from sources nationwide, said the real figure was "in the tens of thousands." On Monday, Machar claimed his forces had gained control of all the major oil fields in Unity and Upper Nile states.
What is all too real is Riek's declaration that he "represents the people of South Sudan," and that they would be best served by a "palace revolution" that removes Salva Kiir.
But there is no military solution to the rapidly growing human catastrophe in South Sudan; only a military stand-down will create the possibility of halting the spread of ethnic violence, and it may already be too late. The longer the fighting continues, the more difficult peace becomes and the more catastrophic the consequences for civilians of all ethnicities. To be sure, we simply don't know enough about conditions in too many locations, especially in Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity--the three states in which Riek's forces are strongest. But surmising from what has already occurred at Bor, Akobo, and Malakal, we should assume the worst.
What is your "end game," Riek Machar? How do you plan to stop the military violence? Why won't you commit to a cessation of offensive hostilities agreement? Why are you speaking of the sequestering of oil revenues? And instead of putting a condition on negotiations, with perhaps other to follow, why won't you accept Salva Kiir's offer of immediate and "unconditional" negotiations? Why won't you acknowledge the significance of the GOSS announcement that it is releasing eight of the eleven detainees? Why won't you work urgently to halt the advance of the "White Army" on Bor, an advance that promises to issue in extremely bloody fighting and guarantees subsequent fighting in Bentiu?
If there are no answers soon, South Sudan may well disintegrate, humanitarians will be unable to assist civilians in need, and ongoing ethnic violence may define whole regions of what is now South Sudan.
[NB: This analysis does not presume to assess the performance of Salva Kiir as president of the GOSS or the nature of political dissatisfaction within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. The focus here is squarely on the very recent actions and statements of Riek Machar and their likely consequences for South Sudan. A subsequent analysis will attempt to move back in time in an attempt to survey political discontent in this very new country. The Brookings Institution offers a very useful time-line ("A Timeline of Brookings Expert Commentary on South Sudan," December 27, 2013.]
Eric Reeves' new book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org)
The views expressed in the 'Comment and Analysis' section are solely the opinions of the writers. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author not Sudan Tribune.