Despite relative calm since the surge of violence in July 2016, South Sudan faces increasing tension and situations of violence that call for international attention. A surge of fighting in Malakal, the second largest city in South Sudan after Juba, killed dozens of people after rebels tried to seize control of the town. According to an army spokesperson, Lul Ruai Koang, about 56 lives were taken.
The rebel group that instigated the attack wants to dislodge the government from the town. While they were unsuccessful, a point which the South Sudanese government emphasized during a press conference in Malakal, the surge in violence emphasizes unrest seen in the country since the most recent peace deal began to fall apart in early July. The rival factions– those loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to the former Vice President Riek Machar– traded accusations over the violent clash, emphasizing the instability of last year’s peace agreement, which successful ended over 20 consecutive months of conflict.
The August 2015 peace agreement called for a ceasefire and the formation of a transitional government, and barred “actions that may impede or delay the provision of humanitarian assistance, or protection to civilians, and restrict free movement of people.”
Concerns of violence are deeply rooted in South Sudan’s conflict-ridden history. In December 2013, just two years after the country gained independence, President Salva Kiir accused Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup, to which Machar responded by forming his own oppositional army. While the initial violence was largely focused in Juba, it quickly spread to other parts of the country. While the fighting is largely based on tensions between political elites, Kiir has used ethnic affiliation to mobilize the Dinka ethnic group. Similarly, Machar has used his ethnic identity to mobilize the Nuer.
The clash in Malakal is one instance in a wave of violence sparked by rumors of Salva Kiir’s death. While the rumors have been dispelled both through a press conference and a publicity stunt where Kiir, alive and well, was driven around town in the back of a pick-up truck, they left a lasting impression.
“The United Nations Mission in South Sudan is extremely concerned over increased reports of violence and armed conflict in various parts of the country in the last few weeks” reads a October 12th UNMISS Statement. “We have also received continued reports of clashes in the Equatorias, and we are verifying accounts of attacks by unidentified armed men on a civilian convoy traveling from Yei to Juba, which led to the deaths of over 20 people, including women and children, and retaliatory actions by responding military personnel, which led to the deaths of a further five civilians.”
According to the South Sudanese military, over 60 people were killed last week alone. The United Nations released reports of civilians being burned alive in buses.
“It has become abundantly clear that the current leadership in South Sudan does not want peace. Negotiated settlements have not ever been shown to be effective in ending mass atrocity situations. Continuing down that path alone is an exercise in futility,” says Jewish World Watch Director of Advocacy and Programs, Mike Brand. “We need a new comprehensive strategy to ending conflict, providing security, assisting in establishing transitional authority, investing in reconciliation and accountability, and putting the country on a path towards a sustainable peace.”