- Violence in capital killed hundreds, caused UN casualties
- Clashes come after transitional government formed in April
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate arms embargo on South Sudan and support for the body’s mission in the oil-producing African country, where the deaths of hundreds in the capital raised the prospect of a return to all-out civil war.
The city of Juba was calm on Tuesday, five days after a shootout in the city between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, the former rebel leader, triggered clashes that left at least 120 people dead. The violence, in which two Chinese peacekeepers and one UN staff member were among the slain, came less than three months after the two sides formed a transitional government to end a conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives since December 2013.
“This is the time to massively reinforce UN action,” Ban said in New York on Monday, according to comments posted on his official website. “When a government cannot or will not protect its people, and when warring parties seem more intent on enriching and empowering themselves at the expense of their people, the international community has a responsibility to act.”
As well as the weapons embargo, Ban urged the UN Security Council to implement further sanctions on leaders blocking the enactment of the peace agreement, and the fortification of the country’s UN mission, which he said “desperately” needs attack helicopters and other equipment to protect civilians.
South Sudan, which marked its fifth anniversary of independence from Sudan on Saturday, has been ruled by the transitional government since April, after Kiir and Machar agreed to work together to end the civil war. The conflict forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes and cut oil production in the country, which has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest crude reserves, by at least a third to as little as 120,000 barrels per day.
The U.S. government ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel from the capital amid the fighting. U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec on Monday said a regional force may need to be deployed to stabilize South Sudan. An arms embargo and other measures should also be considered to force leaders to rein in their troops, he told reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African bloc that mediated the failed peace agreement, on Monday said it’s demanding a revision of the UN mission’s mandate, to allow for the establishment of an intervention force and increase the number of troops from the region. A major fear is that fighting will spread to other areas in South Sudan, IGAD Chairman Tedros Adhanom told reporters in Nairobi.
Kiir ordered a cease-fire to take immediate effect at 6 p.m. Monday in Juba, according to a statement from his office. He also requested commanders to protect civilians, threatened ethnic groups and any opposition force who surrendered. Machar reciprocated by ordering his commanders to respect the cease-fire accord.
South Sudan’s crude, pumped by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp., is exported via a pipeline through its northern neighbor. Sudanese officials “don’t expect the oil will stop coming,” Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said by phone from that nation’s capital, Khartoum.
Forces loyal to Kiir and Machar clashed in Juba on the night of July 7, leaving at least five people dead. The following day, fighting at the presidential compound killed at least 115 people, a spokesman for Machar’s fighters, William Gatjiath Deng, said by phone. On Sunday, heavy gunfire erupted in the west of the city, while government helicopters were seen attacking opposition bases. Machar’s troops were also attacked Monday, Deng said.
The transitional administration “is now dead,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “The idea of stationing two armies, still hostile, within or on the edges of Juba, and entrusting the security of the city to them, has been shown to be profoundly flawed.”
Heavy clashes took place early Monday near the UN’s two bases in Juba, the mission’s acting spokeswoman, Shantal Persaud, said by phone. Both compounds were hit on Sunday, she said.
The UN Refugee Agency said Monday that neighboring Uganda has closed its border with South Sudan, citing refugees near the crossing for the information. Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda rejected speculation the country will deploy troops to South Sudan, as it did in support of Kiir in late 2013.