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 fighting came again. 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’s” ethnic group.
In the outside world, anger increased over the brutality of the war 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.
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, two massacres took place which caused a great deal of outrage in the outside world. The White Army and other loyalist groups against Riek Machar entered Bentiu, the center of the state of Unity, after the numerically inferior SPLA force that had held the city withdrew while waiting for 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 Riek 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. According to UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, about 9,000 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 called and postponed for several years and the 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.