South Sudan’s fragile peace agreement, and the new transitional government formed in April, appear to be a bitter memory only as heavy fighting ravages the country with opposition forces claiming they will take over the capital Juba shortly.
Fierce clashes are taking place in the bush around Juba, with an opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA-IO) claiming to be closing in on the capital with the aim of taking it over, reported the Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
“Heavy fighting has been going on for the past three days. President Salva Kiir’s forces have been on offensive against our forces. They are hunting for the first vice president, Dr Riek Machar, with the aim of eliminating him. However, our forces have been fighting back in self-defence,” said James Gatdet Dak, Machar’s spokesperson.
Dak said the opposition forces have captured large amounts of territory, inflicted heavy losses on government forces loyal to Kiir, and confiscated 21 military trucks as well as military equipment including bulldozers, small pick-up trucks and different assault weapons.
Dak added that the opposition forces have besieged Juba from different directions and will be forced to move on to the capital to take control of it and restore law and order, reported the Tribune.
“My leadership has been calling for prompt deployment of a third party force to separate the two forces so that Machar can return to Juba and continue with the implementation of the peace agreement without threats of return to violence in the capital,” said Dak.
“But if this does not happen and Kiir’s forces continue to attack our forces with the aim to eliminate Machar, our forces will be forced to capture Juba,” he said.
Dak added that taking control of Juba by the opposition forces would put to an end the ongoing attacks on their forces and restore peace and security in the capital and beyond.
However, South Sudan’s government on Friday in a cabinet meeting chaired by Kiir resolved not to allow a third party force to deploy in Juba, saying the current 12 000 peacekeepers of the United Nations were enough and only their mandate could be negotiated and reviewed.
The African Union (AU) has been pushing for the deployment of extra forces to South Sudan.
This followed an Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) council of ministers meeting in Kenya in mid-July stating that there was a need for extra troops to back the UN mission in the young nation.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) had earlier requested peacekeeping nations to prepare their troops for possible deployment in South Sudan in order to avert a possible outbreak of violence.
Machar, meanwhile, remains in hiding fearing for his life despite an ultimatum issued by Kiir several weeks ago that if Machar didn’t return to the capital and take up his duties he would be dismissed from the government.
Kiir subsequently appointed former mining minister Taban Gai Deng, and member of Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Oppostion (SPLMA-IO), as the new first vice president.
This move raised fears of an escalation of fighting.
“If Kiir’s action to remove Machar and replace him with Deng proves to be part of an elite pact without grassroots support, it could undermine the peace agreement while trampling on the democratic process,” warned Brian Adeba, associate director of policy at the Enough Project.
However, South Sudan’s ambassador to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, Samuel Lominsuk, told the African News Agency (ANA) that it was members of Machar’s own SPLM-IO party that had pushed for Machar’s replacement on Sunday and that Kiir had acted on the advice of the opposition leadership.
“The constitution of the SPLM-IO states that in the absence of its chairman the party is in a position to nominate a new chairman from within. During a leadership meeting in Juba, the party took the decision to replace Machar with Deng, who was the former mining minister in the newly formed transitional government,” said Lominsuk.
However, Machar’s allies say the move to substitute him with Deng, was illegal since Deng had already defected to a Kiir-led faction.
– African News Agency (ANA)