South Sudan: New Country, New Violence


The world is rallying behind its newest country, South Sudan, which has been plagued by conflict over the past few weeks.

Simmering tensions in South Sudan, which gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, erupted into open warfare when soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, who was dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup according to President Salva Kiir Mayardit.

President Kiir Mayardit belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Machar to the Lou Nuer. United Nations officials said there have been increasing reports of ethnically targeted violence in a conflict that has already claimed the lives of more than 1,000 South Sudanese and displaced more than 50,000 others who have sought refuge at UN camps.

“South Sudan is under threat, but South Sudan is not alone,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a Christmas Day statement.

“I want to assure you that the United Nations stands with the people of South Sudan at this difficult time. We know many of you are suffering from horrific attacks. Families are fleeing their homes. Many of you have lost loved ones and are grieving. Innocent civilians are being targeted because of their ethnicity,” he added. “This is a grave violation of human rights [and] I have warned all responsible for crimes that they will be held accountable.”

UN Special Representative Hilde Johnson said in a Dec. 26 video news conference from Juba, South Sudan, that the UN Mission in the country was investigating reports of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, mistreatment, abuses and mass rapes. Johnson said that they needed assets, such as troops and helicopters, to be delivered with “unprecedented speed” so they could protect civilians in a much more proactive way.

“Let me underline: all peacekeepers are under the instruction to use force when civilians are under imminent threat,” Johnson.

The UN’s Security Council on Dec. 24 resolved to send 14,000 more peacekeepers to the strife-torn country and Johnson said the UN was working to get those assets on the ground in South Sudan by Dec. 28.

Meanwhile, recalling the decades of struggle and sacrifice the country underwent in its fight for independence, she urged the country’s political leaders to instruct their supporters to lay down their arms and to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“These past 11 days have been a very trying time for South Sudan and for all citizens of this new-born nation,” Johnson said. “What happened this last week has for many of them brought back the nightmares of the past. The nation that was painstakingly built over decades of conflict and strife [is] at stake. And for us one of the most important things is to have those nightmares end.”

South Sudanese leaders are in talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union and other international parties and expressed thanks for the global support and a willingness to reach a resolution through diplomatic means.

Francis Mading Deng, the South Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, said on Dec. 24 that his people “do not want to fall back into the abyss of war from which they have suffered for over half a century,” and called the UN’s response “heartening.”

Meanwhile, Kiir Mayardit denounced the “tribal tendencies” that have resulted in the “wanton” killing of innocents and urged all South Sudanese to work together to build their country. He warned that continued malefactors—including those among his own security forces—would be prosecuted.

“Fellow citizens of our beloved nation, if we allow the zeal and spirit of tribalism to reign over our country, we will not be able to foresee what will happen to us as citizens in the future,” he said in a statement published on AllAfrica.com. “For the sake of the unity of our people, I will not allow this trend of affairs to overtake our country. Nobody will be allowed at any cost, to take the law into his or her own hands.”

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