As 2016 ends South Sudan’s civil war continues. The fighting began in December 2013 when ethnic tensions between Dinka and Nuer soldiers turned deadly. The peace agreement signed in August 2015 by the government (led by a Dinka president) and the rebels led by a prominent Nuer government official has failed to hold. New fighting broke out in July 2016 and all but destroyed the peace agreement. The fighting destroyed much more. By late 2016 South Sudan’s inflation rate was running somewhere between 800 and 850 percent a year. The fighting has curtailed oil production and lower oil prices produce less revenue. As a result the country is nearly bankrupt. UN officials and diplomats from several major donor nations (including the U.S.) believe conditions in South Sudan are so bad that the situation could degenerate to a massive genocide. That may sound over-wrought but they have a case.
Refugees and internally displace people (IDPs) are vulnerable to hunger, disease and violence. According to the UN, 1,160,000 South Sudanese refugees are now in neighboring countries and its estimated that in South Sudan around 1,900,000 people are IDPs. The continuing civil war and ethnic violence is the main reason people flee, hunger is another, but starvation and malnutrition are tied to the war. The general insecurity that is preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to many areas makes it worse. It is believed that around 4.5 million people in South Sudan face food shortages and some 3.6 million face severe food shortages. The situation is particularly severe in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state where 60 percent of the population confronts food shortages. The figures for Unity state and Western Bahr el Ghazal states are 56 percent and 47 percent, respectively.
At the moment the UN peacekeeping operation deploys 13,700 troops and police in the country. UN officials believe this force isn’t large enough to prevent fighting between the rebels army. In part that is because many UN peacekeepers are assigned to protection of civilians (POC) sites, which means it is difficult for them to quickly respond to outbreaks of violence elsewhere in the country. Yet when fighting resumed in July 2016 peacekeepers in several locations did little to protect civilians. This occurred even when the violence was close to UN facilities. There were also controversial incidents were peacekeepers failed to adequately protect other peacekeepers. This was later tracked to the fact that many peacekeepers did not understand the rules of engagement (ROE). Soldiers from many participating countries were reluctant to use lethal force (or even threaten force) without orders from high-ranking officers. That’s the old “above my pay grade” argument, and it is a common problem in many less-than-professional militaries. Of course waiting for authorization is not possible in many situations, particularly where small units (companies and platoons) confront immediate and unexpected violent threats that require quick action. That’s why UN operating procedures are changing. The UN now authorizea peacekeepers in South Sudan to use all necessary means…To protect civilians under threat of physical violence, irrespective of the source of such violence, within its capacity and areas of deployment…” Anticipating the new mandate, in early December Japan authorized its peacekeepers in South Sudan to fire their weapons in peacekeeping operations. Japanese soldiers may serve as part of a rescue unit, to rescue other peacekeepers and civilians under attack. They may also employ their weapons as part of a joint protection operation defending civilian camps. (Austin Bay)
December 24, 2016: Uganda is encouraging serious peace talks between Sudan and Darfur rebel groups. Uganda’s president personally facilitated discussions in Uganda and in Ethiopia between Sudanand two key Darfuri rebel groups (JEM and SLM-MM). Today in Uganda’s capital the president met with the senior commanders of both groups.
December 23, 2016: The UN approved further sanctions and a stiff arms embargo on South Sudan.
December 22, 2016: Sudan threatened to take “decisive action” against rebel groups in Sudan. The government pointed out that Sudan’s unilateral cessation of hostilities terminates at the end of this month.
China announced that it is deploying a military engineering team to Sudan. The 109 Chinese soldiers will serve with the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Another 116 Chinese soldiers will deploy by the end of the month (for a total of 225 troops) and all will serve for one year. China has a “rotating” contingent and this is the 13th rotation for Chinese peacekeepers.
December 19, 2016: UN leaders fear South Sudan’s spiraling violence will lead to genocide and favor imposing a very restrictive arms embargo on South Sudan.
December 17, 2016: A Swiss aid organization accused Un peacekeepers in South Sudanof giving a rebel commander several dozen weapons after fighting broke out in December 2013. Peacekeepers in Bentiu (Unity state) provided rebels with “dozens” of weapons and ammunition for the weapons. The rebels who got the weapons have been charged with committing atrocities, including the April 2014 slaughter of several hundred civilians in Bentiu. UN officials said the rebels received the weapons when they were still allegedly loyal to the South Sudan government. The UN also claims that the rebels directly threatened the UN personnel. At the time the rebel leader waas commander of the army’s 4th Division (which had a headquarters in Bentiu). Critics dispute that claim the rebel leader (an ethnic Nuer) was still with the government because he was an early supporter of the rebel cause. As for the weapons: UN officials said rebels received five machines guns and 80 assault rifles as well as grenades and ammunition. The weapons and ammo were given to UN peacekeepers by fleeing South Sudan government troops who sought UN protection. UN personnel in Bentiu did refuse subsequent demands by the rebels to get more ex-government weapons. The rebel leader in question says he has absolutely no knowledge about UN personnel in Unity state giving his soldiers weapons. He also denies the accusations his forces committed war crimes in April 2014 when they recaptured the city. He says the people his men killed were members of a pro-government militia. The rebel leader blames the Sudan JEM rebels for killing civilians in Unity state.
December 16, 2016: The UN renewed the peacekeeping operation in South Sundan through December 15, 2017. There were also some changes with the number of soldiers increased to 17,000 and police to 2,101 and for an additional 4,000 soldiers deployed as a “regional protection force” that can operate throughout the country. This is partly in response to accusations that UN peacekeepers in Sudan and South Sudan often fail to protect civilians, especially among the 2.5 million people internally displaced within the Darfur region or western Sudan).
December 15, 2016: The Sudan SPLM-N rebels expect fighting will increase in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The dry season usually begins in mid-December. The dry season is when government begins conducting large-scale military and security operations. Earlier this month the SPLM-N demanded that the Sudan president resign his office because he is an obstacle to peace. The Sudanese president also remains under indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The SPLM-N and the government are no longer conducting peace negotiations. The only issue the SPLM-N will discuss with the government is humanitarian aid and human rights in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. The war in the two states began in 2011 and has displaced an estimated 1.2 million civilians. (Austin Bay)
December 14, 2016: UN officials encouraged UN members to help prevent a “Rwanda-like” genocide in South Sudan. The UN wants an additional 4,000 peacekeepers deployed to South Sudan to protect civilians throughout the country. The additional 4,000 would be supplied by nations in the region (hence the term “regional protection force”). A senior Council commissioner said that the UN expects fighting to increase during the dry season.
December 13, 2016: The South Sudan rebel leader is back in South Africa. He is reportedly confined to a house outside of Pretoria, though that is disputed by South African authorities. The South African foreign ministry said the rebel leader is being treated as a guest. The South African government said it wants to facilitate peace in South Sudan. According to diplomatic rumor, IGAD (East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development) has asked the South African government to make sure the rebel leader does not leave. In late November the rebel leader left South Africa and flew to Ethiopia, in an aborted attempt to insert himself in new negotiations.
December 12, 2016: The Sudanese president said the civil disobedience movement in Sudan will not force him to relinquish power. Activists in Sudan are encouraging nation-wide civil disobedience to protest new government policies that reduced fuel, drug and electricity subsidies.
December 10, 2016: The South Sudan Army’s chief of staff warned his soldiers to avoid aggressive action directed at foreign troops operating under UN peacekeepers new mandate. The army leader said that rebels, not civilians, were the army’s targets. The new mandate permits UN peacekeepers to use force to stop threats to civilians and operations to rescue foreign military personnel serving with peacekeeping units.
December 7, 2016: South Sudan police have arrested and deported the last foreign reporter in South Sudan after accusing him of being “too critical” of the government.
December 6, 2016: The Sudanese Army conducted the largest military exercise in its history. Exercise Knights Challenge was conducted in the Al-Ma’aqil military area (River Nile state).
December 4, 2016: Sudan police seized copies of the Sudan Communist Party’s daily newspaper. The government gave no reason for the seizure. However, police have used this technique before to intimidate government critics.
December 3, 2016: South Sudan rebels claimed to have complete control of Lasu\Lonbongo (Yei River state). The rebels claimed they killed 16 soldiers in a battle for the area. They also captured weapons, ammunition and an armed vehicle (probably a wheeled “technical” vehicle). Rebel claimed the surviving soldiers flew across the border into Congo.
December 1, 2016: Sudan confirmed that it is holding new discussions with two Darfur rebel groups (JEM and SLM-MM). The government wants to clarify rebel positions on humanitarian cessation of hostilities agreement. The negotiations have made not progress since August 2016. The agreement includes provisions for releasing prisoners of war.
November 30, 2016: In Sudan SPLM-N rebels claim that on November 28 an air force fighter-bomber dropped two bombs between the villages of Hajar Bako and Hajar Tia villages in the Nuba Mountains (Heiban Town area, South Kordofan state). Heiban Town itself has been hit before. It was bombed in 2014. In May 2016 two air force jets strafed Heiban Town and killed six children.
The U.S. and UN officials warned that violence is escalating in South Sudan. The U.S. and UN claim to have credible evidence that the South Sudan government is targeting rebel civilians in Central Equatoria state. South Sudan rejected the U.S. accusation.