As fighting continues in South Sudan a possible ceasefire put forward by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir may be hard to maintain.
The ceasefire which was negotiated at a meeting of Eastern Africa leaders on Friday has been agreed to in principle by Kiir. It is up to Riek Machar, Kiir’s former vice president to come to the other side of the table.
As sporadic fighting continues Machar stated that proper negotiations had to take place before a truce could be accepted.
The country has been racked by violence since Dec.15 with fighting reflecting tribal roots; Machar comes from the Nuer tribe, Kiir comes from the Dinka tribe. The two men are locked in a battle for control of South Sudan.
As Machar controls a large part of the country he is in a position to negotiate and one of his key demands is that Kiir release all 11 prisoners being held. Kiir, who has the backing of his South Sudanese neighbors, has agreed to release eight of the 11 but refuses to set free Pagan Amum, former Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), ex-Finance Minister Kosti Manibe and ex-Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor.
Machar insists that all 11 must be released before a truce can be negotiated. Kiir’s government has put on hold an offensive to retake Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, and indicated that troops would not move providing Machar’s rebel forces respected the ceasefire.
Eastern African leaders have stated they would not accept a coup and that the two sides need to seize the small window of opportunity presented them by the ceasefire and start talks by Dec. 31. They also suggested creating a means for supplies to reach the countries displaced. It is estimated that more than 80,000 people have been displaced and at least 1,000 have died since the violence began.
The United Nations (UN) has set up camps for the displaced and are doubling the amount of peacekeepers in the country to 12,500 troops and adding over a thousand police to help maintain over 60,000 citizens seeking refuge at their bases.
As terms for a possible ceasefire in South Sudan are debated, fighting continues sporadically throughout the country. Kiir claims that government forces have retaken Malakal, capital of the oil producing Upper Nile State, while Machar maintains that his forces are still in control of the city.
The city of Bentiu has also been the source of much fighting with the two sides swapping control of the city. Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, has suffered the same fate and is now under threat of 25,000 Nuer youths known as the White Army that are marching toward the capital.
With both leaders firmly entrenched in their positions it is hard to see an end to the violence. Machar has stated that a unilateral ceasefire will not work. He insists that a truce has to be negotiated by delegates from both sides.
Vice President James Wani Igga countered with: “Dr. Riek has put obstacles to this genuine call by issuing preconditions that a ceasefire cannot be reached unless a negotiation is conducted.
Meanwhile the fighting continues and any possible ceasefire in the South Sudan seems improbable.
By Scott Wilson