South Sudan: Has South Sudan Passed the Tipping Point?

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In response to this, Riek's emissary in Addis sketches a future for negotiations that could be made to drag out indefinitely, while evermore destructive fighting continues:

Johannes Musa, a member of the negotiating team for former Vice President Riek Machar, told Al Jazeera that there are significant problems to be overcome, and that the rebels will not lay down their arms unilaterally. "We did not refuse a ceasefire," Musa said. " But we put out some conditions. The government may not commit itself to mutual ceasefire, that will not be monitored." (Al Jazeera [Addis Ababa], January 2, 2014)

This confusing, perhaps disingenuous conflation of issues is the best context for assessing an ominous report that the SPLA says it has evidence of the forced recruitment of civilians into the rebel army in the Bor area:

Rebel militia currently hold Bor, the capital of the key oil-producing state of Jonglei. The military spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said the government had sent in reinforcements but claimed the rebels were arming reluctant civilians as they focused on their next target--Juba, the seat of the central government. "Juba, that is their intention," he told the Associated Press. "They are trying to march to Juba. The [military] will return them to where they came from." (Associated Press [Addis Ababa], January 2, 2014).

If true--and forced recruitment has a long and ugly tradition in the South--this suggests that the drive for Juba is serious and that this most catastrophic of military events could occur soon. Reports this morning from the BBC (January 3, 2014) indicate that the battle has already begun and involves tanks and heavy artillery.

A week ago I asked a question that has only gained in urgency: "Riek Machar: What is His End-Game?" (December 28, 2013). Even now it is not at all clear what he hopes to gain from further military activity--only that he intends to keep fighting, thus increasing violence throughout the country, with an intensifying ethnic character. But what does he want? Further military gains? Does he think that he can capture Juba? Achieve a political weakening of Salva Kiir's government, thereby improving his chances for political power in South Sudan? Or perhaps what he has in mind is a deal with Khartoum over the oil regions. Again, Riek expediently signed the 1997 "Khartoum Peace Agreement," which paved the way for ethnic clearances to provide security for oil companies operating in Western Upper Nile. Those clearances and killings (1997 - 2003) were primarily civilians of Riek's own Nuer ethnicity. Riek would later admit that the "agreement" with Khartoum was a bad idea, but by then the civilian clearances and destruction had largely been accomplished. Is Riek prepared to make another agreement with Khartoum if he is militarily squeezed by the SPLA?

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