The youngest country in the world, South Sudan, is facing a humanitarian crisis fueled by ethnic rivalries, just two years after it gained independence from Sudan. Prior to South Sudan’s independence in 2011, Sudan had been in a state of civil war for over 20 years with more than 1 million people killed during that time. The current skirmishes have caused tens of thousands of people to flee a number of towns. Many have found refuge in compounds run by the United Nations, left-over from the civil war, though some have been ransacked by looters and armed rebels.
Descent into Civil War Feared
The current state of South Sudan’s politics is total confusion. Since independence, the President has been Salva Kiir, who is from the Dinka ethnic group, and his former Vice-President, Riek Machar, is from the rival Nuer group. In July of 2013, President Kiir removed Mr. Machar from his position, it what was seen as a purge of Mr. Kiir’s opponents. Since that time, tensions have been rising, and just last week, President Kiir accused Mr. Machar of launching an attempted coup. The rivalry between the groups, it is feared, may be increasingly stirred by the personal bitterness by the two leaders. A full-scale conflict has yet to break out, but tensions are high and civilians are fleeing a number of towns that have been attacked by Mr. Machar’s rebels as they try to seize land from the government.
United Nations Not Yet Doing Enough
It has been reported that a number of attacks targeted UN personnel. Two Indian peacekeepers were shot in a raid carried out by rebels supporting Mr. Machar, just last week. United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, responded to the attacks on both UN peacekeepers and civilians, saying that UN presence in the region will increase. He added that the killings “must cease immediately.” He continued, “the United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences, even if they claim they had no knowledge of the attacks.”
It is currently thought that in the present conflict between 500 and 1,000 people have died, with about 40,000 housed in UN compounds. Many of the killings are thought to have been summary executions; humanitarian coordinator for the UN, Toby Lanzer, told the BBC that he saw, “some of the most horrible things that one can imagine [while in the city of Bor].” He continued, “People were being lined up and executed in a summary fashion. This is done by people who are simply out of control.”
Neighboring countries are trying to get both leaders, Mr. Machar, and acting President Kiir, to the negotiating table. A delegation of East African foreign ministers would serve as mediators