No peace after the peace agreement
During the six-year transition period until South Sudan’s independence in 2011, small-scale fighting continued around the country. The leaders of the SPLM / SPLA accused the government in Khartoum of supporting rebels with the intention of sabotaging the peace agreement and stopping the division of the country.
Outbreaks of violence are also believed in some cases to have been due to local leaders’ attempts to strengthen their positions ahead of the upcoming elections in the hope of gaining profitable political assignments. The old ethnic differences also came into play, now that the pressure from the north had eased to some extent. Much of the violence took place in the form of cattle raids.
The fighting continued after independence. The new state seemed to be able to collapse from the very first moment, despite the fact that the UN had placed an international force called Unmiss in the country to help ensure stability and peaceful development.
The resigned SPLA general George Athor formed the South Sudan Democratic Movement / South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDM / SSDA) in 2010 after failing to be elected governor of the state of Jonglei. His militia was recruited mainly within the murle people, who had long been in conflict with lou nuer over cattle and pastures. SSDA was involved in a number of battles in 2011 and continued the war in 2012 despite Athor being killed by government soldiers in December 2011. In January 2012 alone, an estimated 100,000 civilians were forced to flee fighting in Jonglei. The UN moved troops from Unmiss to the area to try to stop the fighting, but without much effect.
The government is fired
When the fighting between murle and nou nuer intensified in 2011, the nuisance militia Vita armén was re-established, having laid down its arms five years earlier. On Christmas Day, it threatened to “wipe out the entire murle people from the face of the earth” and to fight both the SPLA and the UN force.
According to itypejob, conditions in South Sudan degenerated steadily. In October 2012, Amnesty International accused government forces of brutally attacking civilians in Jonglei when, earlier this year, they tried in vain to disarm the militias there.
In July 2013, President Salva Kiir dismissed the entire government without further explanation. Riek Machar, who has been vice president since 2005, was also allowed to leave, as was SPLM’s general secretary Pagan Amum, another veteran of the liberation movement.
In December of that year, Machar, Amum, and several of the dismissed ministers in an open letter described President Kiir as a dictator. A few days later, fierce fighting broke out in the capital Juba and hundreds of people are believed to have been killed in a few days. Kiir accused Machar of trying to carry out a coup.
Increased UN strength
The fighting spread rapidly in the country and tens of thousands of civilians fled their homes. Around 40,000 sought protection at UN facilities. After the break between the Dinka Kiir and the nuer Machar, it became clear that the fighting had once again pitted the two largest ethnic groups against each other.
The conflict also created a tense situation between the UN and the government, which suspected the international force of being on the side of the rebels. Government officials made threatening statements against Unmiss and UN staff could not move freely. On Christmas Eve 2013, the UN Security Council decided to strengthen Unmiss from a maximum of 7,000 men to a maximum of 12,500.
In January 2014, the regional cooperation organization Igad got representatives of the government and the rebels to come to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to negotiate a ceasefire. But while the talks were going on, the fighting continued. In addition, neighboring Uganda sent troops to South Sudan after President Kiir asked for help.
The UN accused both sides of the conflict of indiscriminate killing and looting and of stealing food to be delivered to the refugees. As early as January, an estimated half a million people had been forced out of their homes. About 10,000 had fled into Sudan.
Armistice quickly broken
On January 23, a ceasefire agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, but there was strong doubt among outsiders that, above all, the undisciplined and not very coordinated rebel forces would respect the ceasefire.
As feared, it did not take many days before reports of new battles came. In February 2014, it was as if there had never been an agreement on a ceasefire. Places taken by the rebels were usually recaptured by the government army after a few days. In February, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch accused both sides of war crimes such as looting private property and intentionally killing civilians from the “enemy” ethnic group.