War of words in South Sudan

A series of severe allegations are being traded between the authorities in Juba and the United Nations. The political mosaic of South Sudan is messy and hardly anyone knows who is calling the shots and where the writ of the state rests.

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Published: Thu 23 Jan 2014, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 9:32 PM

What started as a political standoff between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his ousted vice-president Riek Machar has now graduated into a full-blown conflict, which has claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than 100,000 people. According to the world body’s estimate, more than 70,000 have taken refuge at the UN premises in Juba and in other diplomatic enclaves, bringing severe pressure on the hosts to feed and provide for so many refugees.

In a latest outburst from the corridors of power, President Kiir has accused the United Nations of running a parallel government and allegedly trying to undermine his authority by supporting the rebels. Though the UN denies the charge, it is in need of being investigated. Kiir has also accused the UN of hiding rebels and guns in their makeshift camps. These are harsh words to come from the government, and reflect the unease prevalent in the crisis-ridden country. There are also reports of rebels shooting on sight anyone they perceive as pro-government, and this is no less than genocide in the making. The most disturbing news is that patients in hospitals have also been subjected to cruelty by troops loyal to Machar, with some having been shot in bed.

The UN, which is in the process of deploying an additional 5,000 peacekeepers to restore normalcy, will have a difficult task to implement the peace agenda. More than 7,000 Blue Helmets are already on the ground, but still largely unable to stop the fighting between the warring sides. Which is why UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has admitted that he is “alarmed and disturbed” over the security of his staff in South Sudan. This peace mission has been in the eye of the storm since the day it was mandated to restore peace by taking over areas that have not been stormed by rebels or government troops. Apparently that is why Kiir is so antagonistic to the UN making inroads because it would stop government troops from conducting flush-out operations against the rebels.

What is missing in the entire process is active diplomacy from the neighbouring countries as well as the African Union. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom, who had been counselling for a mediated way to end the crisis, need to renew their bid and bring this warfare to an end. Kiir will do well by cooperating with the UN rather than making life difficult for it.

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