In the outside world, anger increased over the brutality and the leaders’ indifference to the hardships of the population. The peace talks in Addis Ababa continued, but they were slow. The US and the EU threatened sanctions if delays continued.
In March, the UN estimated that more than a million South Sudanese were homeless and that 800,000 of them were fleeing the country, while a quarter of a million had managed to reach neighboring countries. According to listofusnewspapers, a famine catastrophe also threatened if the farmers who were able to stay on their land could not manage a new harvest. About 3.7 million people, around 45 percent of the country’s population, were already suffering from an acute shortage of food.
In April 2014, two massacres took place which aroused particularly great outrage in the outside world. The White Army and other groups loyal to Machar entered Bentiu, the city center of the state of Unity, after the numerically inferior SPLA force that had held the city withdrew pending reinforcements. Inside the city, the Nues murdered hundreds of people in the streets, in a mosque, a church and a hospital. In the mosque alone, a couple of hundred people are said to have been killed and 400 injured. Eyewitnesses said the militiamen methodically selected non-nuer.
When the information about the current abuse in Bentiu spread across the country, now that sought refuge at the UN base in Bor must have celebrated the “victory”. The city is dominated by Dinka, who did not forget the 1991 massacre led by Machar (see above). Several hundred young Dinka youths entered the UN camp, where they attacked not only Nuer but also UN personnel. At least 40 people were killed before Ugandan soldiers were able to stop the massacre.
As a parallel to the current white army, SPLA has recruited Dinkamiliser among young people in several parts of the country. Thousands of children have been recruited as soldiers for both sides. Neither the army nor the militias are said to be withdrawing to kill children in battle.
New ceasefires also broken
In May, the United States imposed economic sanctions on a military commander on either side who was held responsible for “unimaginable violence” against civilians. The UN said it was considering similar sanctions. Unlike in a number of other conflicts, the Security Council has not been divided in its view of South Sudan.
Following strong pressure from the outside world, especially from US Secretary of State John Kerry, both Kiir and Machar arrived in Addis Ababa on May 10, where they signed a new ceasefire agreement that would take effect within a day. They guaranteed that relief shipments would be released to those in need. Also present at the signing was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who hurried to Ethiopia to increase pressure on the two leaders.
With an agreement anchored at the very highest level, it was believed that there was a possibility that the war would end. But only a few hours after the agreement was signed, the fighting continued. At least seven peace treaties were signed, broken and rejected. New elections were announced and postponed, and Parliament extended President Kiir’s mandate until 2018. The UN repeatedly threatened those responsible with economic sanctions, and the AU raised the idea that South Sudan should be placed under international administration with a UN mandate.
The battles gradually became more concentrated around the oil-producing areas in the north. The one who controls the oil was supposed to have the strongest cards on hand in any negotiations for a new government. In the first week of May 2015 alone, fighting in the oil state of Unity drove up to 100,000 people to flee, according to the UN. Until then, around 150,000 had sought protection at UN bases.
Peace agreement signed
Following reports of serious abuses against civilians, the outside world put more pressure on the warring parties. In August 2015, Kiir and Machar signed a peace agreement that would result in a unified government and division of power at all levels. New elections were expected to be held in early 2018.
A Truth, Reconciliation and Healing Commission would investigate all human rights violations. An AU-backed special court would hear cases of genocide , crimes against humanity and war crimes. The government and rebels had 30 days to withdraw their troops to the barracks, and Juba would become a demilitarized zone.
In fact, the parties’ mistrust of each other was abysmal. In particular, Kiir expressed doubts about the idea that Juba would be emptied of government troops and that peace would be monitored by Unmiss. Already the following month, information came in about new battles and refugee flows. Kiir was heavily criticized by the rebels as well as the United Nations, the United States and the European Union when he ordered that South Sudan be divided into 28 states instead of the 10 on which the agreement was based. The rebel side declared that the president’s decision meant a “death blow” to the peace agreement.