Sudan is no stranger to conflict and death, having suffered decades of internal civil war that began in 1955 and continued to the most recent flashpoint that began right after South Sudan gained its independence and was recognized as a nation state. For a while, things were looking good for the world’s newest country. Then, a week later, the newly established South Sudan and its feuding ethnic factions went to war.
Over 1.1 million Sudanese are internally displaced and seeking refuge at U.N. peacekeeping bases. The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of an imminent drought and even worse famine from the unseasonably light rainfall Africa received this year. Couple that with poor living conditions that will further displace and destroy life, and you’ve got a full-blown disaster. Worse, South Sudanese warlords are planning massive offensives to take place in months, if not weeks.
On 15 December, 2013, South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, believing his vice president, Dr. Riek Machar, and his tribal militiamen—the Nuer—were attempting a coup d’État, ordered the majority Dinka Presidential Guard to disarm all the ethnic Nuer loyal to the vice president. A physical altercation between a Nuer officer and some officers of the Dinka Presidential Guard took place after a junior Nuer officer questioned the disarm order. Both Dinka and Nuer loyal to their clansmen armed themselves and gunfights erupted at close quarters, moving into the capital city of Juba and spilling into the killing fields of Jonglai.
Months of house-to-house killings, machete attacks, wholesale slaughter, and atrocities against women and children that can only be described as medieval are still being slowly reported by the Human Rights Watch investigating the human-rights abuses within the conflict zones. South Sudan still hasn’t determined the final tally of civilian dead. Reports of mass graves and body counts continue to drop. It’s doubtful we will ever know the true scope of the violence.
Having never presented any evidence of this purported coup attempt by his former vice president, President Kiir could do nothing but deflect and finger point as he and his militia were accused of attacking a UN mission camp in Jonglei that resulted in two Indian peacekeepers’ deaths. After the attacks, Kirr argued that the UN was harboring armed opposition militia and that they were attempting to take his “leadership” from him.
Then, on February 18, a UN base was surrounded by Dinka militia loyal to President Kiir, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and local highwaymen passing as “law enforcement.” Ethnic fighting broke out in the Juba UN camp and 10 people died. Nuer militiamen loyal to Vice President Machar, known as the White Army, answered in kind and intentionally targeted ethnic Dinka civilians all along the Jonglei and Upper Nile states corridor. The utter amount of brutality inflicted on over 800,000 innocents was appalling. Ethnic battle lines were drawn and blood oaths were sworn.
Attempts at Peace
After a couple of conferences and peace-treaty negotiations that worked on paper only to fail in South Sudan, the pro-Kiir SPLA and Machar’s Nuer tribal militias comprising the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA/O) continued attacks and ethnic cleansing. One promising string of talks was held between Juba and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia and other African Union members sent their ambassadors to finally attempt a real peace treaty by getting Salva Kiir and Reik Machar to agree to limited terms. It was hard slogging at first, requiring several back-and-forth trips between Juba and Addis Ababa. They struck a deal. A peace treaty was signed. All the emissaries were pleased and celebrated that South Sudan was to have shaky, but potentially lasting, peace.
Within hours, former General Peter Yak Gadet of the SPLA shot down a UN-contracted Russian MI-8 HIP transport helicopter on mission to resupply peacekeeping bases within the Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state training grounds. Peter Gadet was reported to have warned the United Nations to “stop flying over my land.” Gadet’s South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) wanted “broader governmental authority.” They were the third in a group of five different militias and liberation armies to emerge inside the killbox of South Sudan.
It does get hard to keep up with how many “liberation” armies there truly are, or the four to five letter abbreviated designations these “armies” expect to be addressed by. There isn’t a month that goes by that a new “faction” isn’t popping up with its list of demands, prepared for the next bout in the South Sudan “war games.” It is as about as organized as an Occupy movement in Tacoma, WA. For the sake of the big picture and limited attention spans, we shall stay focused on the big three mentioned above.
President Kiir’s press spokesman for the SPLA, Philip Aguer, of course blamed those ‘other’ rebels for this attack stating, “The plane (it was a helicopter, just saying) was shot by forces of Peter Gadet, that is the forces of Reik Machar.” The United States and European Union of course sanctioned them immediately.
The United Nations Security Council and the U.N. Mission (UNMISS) to South Sudan continued to get their eyes blackened in this conflict. They struggled with a lack of proper supplies to deal with the additional 500,000 more mouths to feed and protect from tribal violence across the region. Their bases lacked proper supply chains, logistics, or secure living quarters for refugees. There were just too many refugees pouring in from the Republic of Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic.
Then there’s the fact that one of their helicopters was blown out of the sky mere hours after the signing of a peace treaty. The helicopter was more than likely shot down by an Ukrainian DshkM 12.7mm just lying about this death-dealing dumping ground. The South Sudanese government still hasn’t released its investigation results. It could be believed that a ballistic-assessment report never even happened. And with South Sudan’s utter lack of cooperation with UNMISS, it’s likely they will never get those ballistics reports. Sudan has been widely known as the “African Arms Dump” since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Ukraine has been a major cache point for international arms dealers moving product into the country.
Even African warlords need weapons to conduct war. The bigger the better. And Ukraine was all too ready to accommodate. Countries like Kenya or Eritrea were used to funnel in the shipments from their respective black-market ports and into the hands of their nefarious customers. Recently, UNMISS came across unsubstantiated reports, RUMINT, of a Hercules C-130 with no markings making midnight deliveries to suspected clandestine rebel-controlled airstrips in eastern Sudan to support Ethiopian border disputes secretly funded by Eritrea. Another possibility is that this “Black Herc” delivered arms to one of the multitude of “armies” with “liberation” in their title, fighting the civil war in South Sudan.
U.N. Under Scrutiny
Even the U.N. Mission hasn’t stayed immune to controversy. On March 7, 2014, 11 UN-designated trucks were ‘intercepted’ in Rumbek, in the Lakes area, by elements of the SPLA. Within these cargo trucks were crates of AK-47s and 7.62mm ammunition. South Sudan government officials impounded the 11 trucks in the Lakes States until both the UN and the South Sudanese government could investigate. UNMISS said in a press conference that:
“It is the policy of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) that during the crisis in South Sudan all arms and ammunition for peacekeeping contingents are flown into respective areas of deployment and not taken by road. This is an important security measure.”
UNMISS went further to explain that these weapons were actually on their way to a Ghanaian battalion of peacekeepers that was on its way to the capital city Bentiu in Unity State to get ahead of the bloodshed that UNMISS had predicted.
According to the U.N., a signed “end user” manifest read “general goods.” UNMISS spokeswoman Ariane Quentier finished by saying, “several containers were wrongly labeled and inadvertently contained weapons and ammunition. This is regrettable.” She reiterated the gravity of her ‘fix-this-political-faux-pas’ statement by ensuring that, “The U.N. is in South Sudan to support the government…will remain impartial and…is not in South Sudan to take sides.”
Afterwards, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made remarks about the grave danger this new nation still faces, highlighting the impending food insecurity for the entire region, continuing and impending religious and tribal violence, and the tens of thousands killed or displaced in the nine months this civil war has raged. The U.N. Mission in South Sudan has since been extended another six months, and has been given full authority to protect innocent lives as best they can. General Moon urged South Sudan toward peace by saying, “You have opened the wounds that have caused so much suffering. Now heal them.”
But even this grim reminder will in no way change the perspective of those who want to play the executioner, here. Any way these warring factions slice it, this is just a slow-motion genocide, both bloody and archaic. In the end, one group will raise a bloody, clenched fist in victory, and their warlord will have never gotten the blood anywhere near his hands.
“Bullets change governments far quicker than diplomacy.”—Yuri Orlov
(Featured Image Courtesy: Pete Muller Photography)