South Sudan – Attacks in several locations took place while peace talks were pushed back once again; gunfire in Juba was followed by various reports.
Gunfire was heard in several locations in and around Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Various reports filed in, and an attack on Juba by rebels was reported by several news agencies.
Explanations for the gunfire were several: drunken soldiers; a foiled assassination attempt; and rebellion among SPLA in Juba.
Reports seemed to indicate that the gunfire took place in Jebel–where there is a national security office–and also near the UNMISS compound in Juba. Gunfire was reported to have been heard at around 8:30 p.m. for 10 minutes. There were also reports of gunfire heard at Hei Neem and Atla Bara. The city was reported to be quiet by 10 p.m.
The UN issued a statement Saturday commenting on the reports of gunfire: “UNMISS has noted with concern reports in the news media which alleged that the United Nations said that ‘the rebels are advancing on Juba.’ No UN official has made such a statement to the press.”
At the time of this report, the explanation for the gunfire is still not clear, several varying accounts having been reported by news agencies, reporters, and local sources.
Authorities for the South Sudan government have announced that the government will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. to inform the public regarding Saturday night’s incidents in Juba.
Clashes took place around Bor city, as warned by leaders of both the SPLA and the rebel army over previous days.
Saturday, the army continued to battle rebels in an attempt to retake Bor.
Both Machar and SPLA representatives spoke strongly about the battles that have been waged between Bor and Juba, which lies 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Bor by road.
Friday Machar stated regarding Bor, “Today our forces crushed the amassed government soldiers at their stronghold in Jameza on Juba road. Our troops broke their stronghold and are pursuing them as they flee back to Juba. Juba will fall soon.”
A rebel commander who participated in Friday’s battle stated that SPLA soldiers were retreating back to Juba:
“We are currently pursuing pro-Salva Kiir soldiers. We are surely matching and will enter Juba soon.”
The commander warned Juba residents to stay indoors or at UNMISS compounds because the rebels would attack Juba “any time soon.”
Colonel Philip Aguer told news media not to broadcast that the rebels were advancing, because this would cause panic in Juba.
Besides Bor and the gunfire confusion in Juba, elsewhere in South Sudan attacks took place as the peace talks were pushed back again.
There was confirmed fighting Saturday night in Yei in Central Equatoria State 100 miles west of Juba. Yei has a polulation of 170 000. Yei residents sought refuge in a U.S. run orphanage.
There were clashes around Mayom in Unity State, according to Colonel Aguer.
Pariak was damaged by fighting.
Armed civilians loyal to Machar tried to disrupt Adar oilfield in northeastern South Sudan, but failed, according to Aguer.
There were also reports Mundri had been taken by a rebel force from Lui.
Peace talks are now scheduled to begin Sunday at 1200 GMT in the Addis Ababa Sheraton Hotel. The first reported date for talks was last Wednesday, and since Wednesday talks have been pushed back every day.
A press conference is also scheduled for 8 a.m. Sunday outside the Sheraton. The conference will be held by government spokespeople.
Last Thursday the rebel delegation had attempted to hold a press conference twice outside the Sheraton, but those attempts had been prevented by Ethiopian authorities for reasons unexplained.
The talks are taking place between delegated teams for President Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. The talks are being hosted by IGAD, the East African trading bloc. Kiir and Machar are not in Ethiopia for the talks, but IGAD has stated that IGAD would pursue the two leaders to attend if their presence was needed.
Kiir is in the capital, Juba; Machar’s whereabouts are unknown.
Preliminary talks have been held. The focus of these preliminary talks has been to pin down the main issues that might lead to a negotiated peace. Both Kiir and Machar have shown themselves willing to enter peace talks, but both have been rigid in their respective demands. Kiir has stated that there will be no sharing of power with Machar, who, Kiir says, does not deserve power because Machar opted to use violent rather than peaceful means to take power. Machar, for his part, has demanded the release of 11 political prisoners held by Kiir in Juba as a precondition for negotiations.
The talks, therefore, will be focussed mainly just on cessation of hostilities and starting of a political dialogue.
International parties are putting pressure on Kiir and Machar to settle their differences in order to prevent escalation of the violence in South Sudan. Many fear escalation will lead to a civil war along tribal lines. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom at the opening ceremony of the talks said, “You should not allow this senseless war to continue, you need to stop it, and you need to stop it today — and you can.”
UN aid is being increased in South Sudan.
The UN released a statement Saturday stating that UNMISS was reinforcing its presence in South Sudan, including military, police, logistics, and civilian staff. A portion of these reinforcements will arrive this week. The UN stated that more resources will be allocated to Bor, Malakal, Bentiu, and Juba, which locations are in great need. UN has already increased aid in Juba and Awerial, Lakes State.
The UN stated, “In the past 72 hours, we have raised close to $100 million and are using this money to bring in additional supplies and staff to respond to the evolving situation.”
$209 million is being requested by aid agencies in South Sudan for the next three months.
The UN’s reinforcements come as other groups in South Sudan are leaving the country.
Friday the U.S. began to remove all personnel except core staff, and advised all U.S. citizens to leave South Sudan. Neighboring countries have evacuated their citizens from South Sudan. The U.S. is offering $50 million in aid as they withdraw.
The conflict in South Sudan began December 15 between members of the presidential guard after a disagreement between the two politicians, Kiir and Machar, the previous night.
Peace talks have been pushed back again in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as more attacks have taken place in South Sudan and gunfire caused confusion in Juba.
By Day Blakely Donaldson