The escalation of violence in South Sudan undermines the peace treaty.
An eruption of violence in South Sudan is stoking worries that the country’s fragile peace accord could unravel before elections scheduled for next year, as the international community hopes.
The spate of near-daily murders in this East African nation is often blamed on roaming militias whose assaults jeopardize President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar’s 2018 agreement.
While the two presidents work in the same administration in relative peace in Juba, South Sudan looks to be at war with itself: hundreds of people have been slain in violence ranging from livestock raiding to ethnically driven revenge murders since the beginning of the year.
The violence looked to intensify in June, after Pope Francis’ cancellation of his visit this month, claiming a knee injury. The pope’s visit was intended to restore faith in a nation that had been ravaged by years of strife, including a lengthy fight for independence from Sudan and later a civil war.
According to a violence tracker maintained by the Juba-based civil organisation known by its initials as CEPO, at least 209 people were murdered and 33 others were injured throughout the nation in June alone.
Both Kiir and Machar are under pressure to announce a presidential election schedule for 2023. While Kiir hopes for a vote next year, Machar has said that polls are unthinkable in the face of such widespread instability.
The president’s native state of Warrap has seen the worst violence in recent days, with casualties including a military intelligence director and a former government commissioner.
“We have lost many lives in community violence,” Kiir stated in an early July address, referring to the June 25 deaths of 30 troops in Warrap’s Tonj North county.
The skirmishes in Tonj North occurred when officials ordered security troops there to retrieve livestock taken by bandits from another county. In other situations, attempts to disarm teenagers have sparked violent clashes.
“I truly mourned their deaths,” Kiir stated of the Warrap victims. “We cannot continue to condone the mindless slaughter of both security officers and civilians.”
Killings have also been recorded in the states of Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, and Central Equatoria, according to the president, who acknowledged that peace gains made since 2018 had been destroyed by what authorities call inter-communal violence.
Following the massacres in Warrap, Kiir’s army leader, Gen. Santino Deng Wol, told state television SSBC that ethnic militias will be defeated. “We are accountable for the country’s security,” he said. “We will not allow pandemonium to occur, and we will not allow anybody to interfere with security.”
However, other observers argue that government soldiers and police, who are often outnumbered by civilian assailants in regions rife with small arms, cannot be depended on to defend people. They further claim that the assailants had strong political supporters in Juba.
“The armed young in Tonj North are more strong than our army and other security organizations,” claimed Edmund Yakani, chairman of the CEPO anti-violence group. According to him, the violence is “undermining the true execution” of the peace deal.
It also stymies humanitarian activities among people in desperate need of food, medication, and other necessities.
“The magnitude of sub-national strife — which is now spreading from north to south, from east to west — is worrying,” said Nicholas Haysom, the United Nations ambassador to South Sudan, last month before the Security Council.
According to him, “intercommunal violence and community-based militias” are responsible for more than 80% of civilian fatalities this year. “Violence separates communities and stymies healing.”
After a protracted battle, oil-rich South Sudan attained independence from Sudan in 2011. However, the nation descended into civil conflict in December 2013, partly because to ethnic differences, as soldiers loyal to Kiir clashed with those loyal to Machar.
Tens of thousands of people were murdered throughout the battle, which concluded with a peace deal in 2018. However, the conditions of that agreement have not been completely followed, and ongoing violence is weakening it even more.
In May, a group of United Nations experts said that the 2018 deal is in jeopardy. According to the study, the agreement “is now captive to the political calculations of the country’s military and security elites, who deploy a mix of brutality, plundered public resources, and patronage to serve their own limited objectives.”
“The nation is disintegrating,” said James Akot, a political science professor in Juba. “The nation is forming community defense groups that will soon be able to overcome our army.”
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