x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Peace efforts flounder in South Sudan, further attacks feared

International efforts to bring peace to strife-torn South Sudan appear at an impasse as the government accuses former vice president Riek Machar of recruiting tens of thousands of young fighters.

JUBA // International efforts to bring peace to strife-torn South Sudan appeared at an impasse on Sunday as the government accused former vice president Riek Machar of recruiting tens of thousands of young fighters.

Juba claimed that Mr Machar, the de facto leader of rebels fighting the government, had recruited up to 25,000 young men from his Nuer tribe in the eastern state of Jonglei who they say are “ready to attack any time”.

Jonglei’s acting governor, Ogato Chan, said the Nuer fighters were about 110 kilometres from the state capital of Bor, which is now under the control of government forces.

“The information is that they want to come and attack Bor but I am sure they will not attempt to do it because the SPLA forces will repel them back,” Mr Chan said, referring to South Sudan’s military, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

A rebel spokesman, Moses Ruai Lat, said Mr Machar was “not mobilising his tribe”, the second biggest ethnic group in South Sudan, describing the men instead as regular soldiers who had rejected the government and were not specifically drafted by mr Machar.

The Nuer fighters are members of a tribal militia known as the “White Army”, a name synonymous with years of violence and terror during the 1990s civil war.

In 2011 and 2012 the White Army turned on the Murle ethnic group, killing hundreds in a conflict over cattle theft.

The accusations have cast a shadow over peace talks spearheaded by regional leaders to end the bloody violence believed to have killed thousands over the past two weeks and which the international community fears could slide into civil war.

Regional leaders at the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) have set Tuesday as a deadline for face-to-face talks between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy to end the fierce battles for control over several strategic oil-producing areas in the north of South Sudan.

While the government has said it was willing to observe a ceasefire, Mr Machar has made demands including the release of his arrested political allies before committing to a truce.

“I really doubt if we, the South Sudanese government, will be in a position to sit with Riek Machar,” the South Sudanese government spokesman Michael Makuei said. “He has not even respected the call by Igad and the African Union to agree to the cessation of hostilities.”

Mr Makuei said authorities were ready to free only eight of the 11 detainees linked to Mr Machar, and only once the former vice-president had accepted a ceasefire agreement and talks had started.

Fuelled by an old rivalry between the two, the conflict has fanned ethnic differences between Mr Kiir’s Dinka group and Mr Machar’s Nuer clan in the country, which won independence from Sudan in 2011. Fighting broke out on December 15 after Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar of mounting a coup, which his rival has denied.

In recent days, grim reports of massacres, rapes and killings nationwide have emerged, with the United Nations reporting the discovery of a mass grave.

More than 120,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the clashes, according to the United Nations, which is to double its peacekeeping force to more than 12,000 to contain the bloodshed.

* Agence France-Presse