Less than 24 hours after a ceasefire agreement was signed the rebel group SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) led by former vice-president Riek Machar accuses the South Sudanese government forces of violating the agreement. The agreement was reached only yesterday after two months of fighting that has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced half a million, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs . Beyond Violence here analyses the fragile truce and the causes of the fighting, which runs along ethnic lines and includes control over resources, especially the prosperous oil fields in the Northern regions.
Violating the ceasefire
Yesterday SPLM accused government forces of violating the truce between the parties only ten hours after an agreement was signed. The rebel leader, Machar, said the rebel forces had been attacked in Unity and Upper Nile states by forces loyal to President Salva Kiir. On Thursday the parties had finally agreed upon a ceasefire that would halt all fighting. The ceasefire was reached after the South Sudanese government agreed to release 11 pro-Machar senior politicians linked to the failed coup d’etat and to lift the state of emergency in the Unity and Jonglei states.
Recalling the Darfur genocide
The violence has traits of ethnic lines as President Salva Kiir is a Dinka, and the rebel leader Riek Mackar is Nuer. These groups have fought before, particularly in the 1990s, when the current government forces fought the previous government in a civil war, and in the fighting that led up to South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011. The independence helped put an end to the long-running violence between ethnic groups and the government in Khartoum (capital of Sudan). The region of South Sudan had long been neglected by the government, which caused the fighting between the Nuer and Dinka tribes over disputes of food scarcity due to severe droughts, and control of the rich oil fields. The government of Sudan was accused of fuelling the conflict between the tribes by aiding and funding the Janjaweed rebel group, a militia consisting of recruited nomads. Today, Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir has two warrants for arrest hanging over him at the International Criminal Court for his involvement in the genocide in Darfur in 2003.The genocide was carried out by Nuers against Dinkas, but also had racial features as it mainly targeted black Africans and not Arab Africans.
Fighting over crude reserves
BP has estimated South Sudan’s enormous crude reserve to be the third largest in sub-Saharan Africa. The oil reserves make up the backbone of the economy, accounting for 98 percent of the government’s financial resources. The rich oil fields were one of the areas of dispute leading up to the 2011 independence for South Sudan, and now again has it become a focus of the fighting. This became clear when Machar on January 10th confirmed that the rebels had lost control of the key northern oil town, Bentiu.
Both the government and the rebels work to protect the oil companies working in the country in order not to distort production but the fighting has already caused the evacuation of more than 300 Chinese workers from an oil field in the Upper Nile state. China is by far the largest investor in the oil fields, and South Sudan relies heavily on their investments and operations in the country. However, Chinese officials have stated that more evacuations could follow if the violence is not contained.
The international society is anxiously monitoring the situation in South Sudan. The ceasefire between the government forces and the rebels on the 23rd January is essential in order not to drive out crucial oil investors, which would set back the country and make it even harder to achieve a sustainable peace between the different ethnic groups in the country.
The author is an investigative reporter currently residing in Paris, France. She has written about international politics and organized crime for a variety of international and Danish magazines and newspapers.
Written by TES and published on 25-January-2014