The White Army, 25 000 strong, is moving toward Juba, the capital of South Sudan, as the first of the UN’s 6000 troops arrive.
The army is a tribal militia local to the Lou Nuer sub-clan. Former Vice President Riek Machar is also Lou Nuer.
Information Minister Michael Makuel Lueth stated that Machal had organized the White Army in the name of his tribe. Opposition leader Machar is Nuer and President Kiir is Dinka.
Juba was the initial site of the rebel outburst of violence when on December 15 President Kiir accused his former Vice President Riek Machar of attempting a foiled coup. Forces loyal to Machar began violence against Kiir, according to the government. Machar’s forces charge that the violence began when Kiir’s guards tried to disarm Machar’s guards. Machar and his party have since called for the end of Kiir’s presidency.
Since that time, in Juba a door-to-door search was conducted and hundreds were arrested from houses and hotels.
Friday, the governments of South Sudan and other East African nations announced that they were ready for “a ceasefire to begin immediately.” IGAD, the 8-country regional trading bloc in East Africa, demanded that negotiations begin before the year’s end.
The South Sudanese government also promised to release eight political prisoners that were arrested since the fighting began. Two of the eight were released already. Machar had demanded the release of 11 political prisoners as a precondition for negotiations. At this point, the government was unwilling to release the former Finance Minster, former Cabinet Affairs Minister, or former Secretary General.
Machar responded to the announcements of the Kiir government in a BBC satellite-phone interview stating that any negotiation would have to be participated in by both sides of the conflict, not just the South Sudanese government and neighbor nations.
Machar said in the interview that a mechanism to monitor any ceasefire would also be necessary: “For the ceasefire to be credible there is need for a mechanism, or else we will be deceiving ourselves,” said Machar.
The South Sudanese government complained that Machar was putting obstacles in front of a genuine call for peace and that the “main issue now is to stop violence.”
The UN estimates that around 1000 have died in the two weeks of fighting. 63 000 are seeking refuge in UN compounds around South Sudan. 120 000 have been displaced.
UN reinforcements also arrived Friday. This 72-member contingent of UN police is the first to arrive since the UNSC voted last week to double its peacekeeping force in concerns that South Sudan may slide into civil war. 6000 more troops are expected to arrive Saturday.
Bor, in addition to Juba, is also believed to be a target of the rebel forces. Jonglei’s provincial capital was taken by the rebels December 18. The army defeated the rebels there without much resistance December 24. Philip Aguer, army spokesperson, stated his belief that the rebels are preparing their forces for a fresh offensive to retake Bor.
The White Army in 2011 announced that the Nuer would fight until their rival tribe were completely eradicated and that the government should stay out of their way. The White Army was formed as early as 1991 to protect Nuer cattle and to fight as a minor participant in the Second Sudanese Civil War.
The bulk of the UN’s 6000 troops is expected to arrive Saturday, as the 25 000-strong White Army march toward the capital of South Sudan.
By Day Blakely Donaldson