– We will settle this with war
South Sudan was brought back into war when disagreements within the political leadership boiled over in December last year. President Salva Kiir’s government forces have been fighting against former vice-president Riek Machar’s rebel forces ever since. Despite the signing of a number of ceasefire agreements, the warring parties seem unable to bring peace to South Sudan.
The conflict has hit the civilian population the hardest and the risk of famine is ever-present. Thousands have been killed, over a million are internally displaced and over 100,000 are seeking protection within UN camps. The heavy rains causing flooding of campsites and impassable roads has made aid delivery difficult for the organizations offering critical assistance to the people in South Sudan. For these people it should be encouraging to see the rainy season coming to an end. Sadly, the dry season also appear to bring with an upsurge in violence.
Hope for peace was renewed in early November when the parties again committed themselves to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement originally signed in January. However, only 48 hours after signing the agreement there were reports of fighting between the warring parties. Now it seems like, the negotiations have reached a deadlock with the parties unable to agree on a structure for power-sharing.
Many have questioned how sincere the government and the armed opposition’s real commitment to the peace negotiations really are. Just as soon as concessions appear to be made they are rejected. In the media the parties are busy with shaming and blaming the other for the latest episodes of violence, while reaffirming their own commitment to the peace process. Critics now wonder if the parties are simply waiting to settle this with war.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) warned in late October that the warring parties were preparing for major offensives as the rainy season was coming to an end. While the heavy rains made it difficult for the parties to fight, it also gave the parties time to gear up for the dry season. The ICG quotes an opposition commander saying “we will fight this with war”. The government also appears to be thinking along the same lines. During the rainy season the government have invested in arms, expanded its forces and strengthened its military cooperation with Uganda.
It was predicted that Christmas time would mark the start of the fighting season in South Sudan, and just like clockwork the United Nations Mission to the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) reported last week that new clashes are occurring between government and opposition forces in Jonglei State – clashes described as the most sustained hostilities in a single location since last May.
No peace in sight
The international community is growing impatient. The Security Council and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have threatened to impose sanctions if an agreement is not reached soon. However, it is not the first time such threats are being made and the parties have yet to experience real repercussions for failing to reach agreement. Only time can reveal the true intentions of the parties and what level of violence the dry season will bring. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is; with the negotiations standing still there is no peace in sight for South Sudan.