Uneasy peace holds in Juba as battle subsides

  • 15 Jul 2016 16:33

Article written by Senior Risk Analyst Dominic Maciver, published 15/07/16


As of 14 July, the ceasefire is holding in Juba after the heaviest fighting in the capital since the outbreak of the civil war began in December 2013.Nevertheless, tensions remain very high between the government’s SPLA military and the rebel SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO). Fighting may yet return to Juba with little warning and foreign personnel are wisely withdrawing. Foreign governments are sending troops to secure assets and people, and to assist in evacuating their nationals, with rich countries and aid agencies chartering flights out of Juba Airport (JUB) and neighbouring countries assisting the movement of people towards the land crossings with Uganda and Kenya. Kampala has sent a military convoy to open up a secure corridor to protect its citizens and others from bandits along the road to the Nimule crossing.

The situation is most dire for families that have been left destitute by being displaced from the capital, to which many of them had fled from fighting elsewhere in the country.  The violence has prevented humanitarian agencies from operating safely, with many foreign workers forced to withdraw from the country in light of the security threats. These threats primarily come from SPLA and SPLA-IO soldiers, who have been accused of committing multiple crimes, particularly looting, murder and rape of ethnic enemies, during the course of the instability.

The fighting began in the Jebel area of Juba, where SPLA-IO troops had set up a base in line with the 2015 peace deal to end the civil war, which was to have been the first step before the formation of a power-sharing government headed by President Salva Kiir and in combination with his former deputy, Riek Machar, who led the rebellion. Clashes escalated rapidly to include the use of tanks and helicopter gunships in the J1 area, before moving to Gudele and Check-Point, close to the UN Base at Jebel, in the two areas in which the SPLA-IO is based. After the fighting was over, SPLA commanders claimed to have driven the rebels out of the Jebel area.  

Although President Kiir has denied to the international community that he was involved, it is highly likely that he was complicit via the dominant SPLA figure of Paul Malong, who oversaw the military campaign. The other interpretation is that the president did not have the power to prevent the SPLA from fighting the SPLA-IO, indicating that Kiir is a lame duck figure unable to control his generals. Whichever is the case, the developments indicate that hardline ethnic Dinka elements within the SPLA intend to block the implementation of the 2015 peace deal by obstructing the security arrangements.

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