Nuer militias commit massacres
Around SPLA-Nasir, loosely united militias from the lou nuer ethnic group, a branch of the Nuer people, went by the name of the White Army. It had been formed partly to defend the cattle of the present, and partly to fight against the Sudanese army. After the break-up between Garang and Machar, the White Army and the SPLA-Nasir were embroiled in fierce fighting with the SPLA.
In the city of Bor, at least 2,000 people, most of them Dinkas, were killed in an attack in 1991. It was the worst massacre during the internal fighting in southern Sudan and the bitterness over it has never subsided.
The Sudanese army was not late in exploiting the SPLA split and offered Machar financial and material support to fight Garang. In 1997, Machar made peace with the Sudanese government and was rewarded for serving as an aide to President Omar al-Bashir. But the regime did not fully trust him and suspected that he was actually working for the guerrillas and after a few years he broke with al-Bashir. He returned to the south, was reconciled with Garang and received a new command post within SPLA in 2002.
Following the 2005 peace agreement, when southern Sudan gained autonomy, Riek Machar became vice president of the south. The White Army was now increasingly engaged in cattle theft and did not allow itself to be disarmed until it had suffered heavy losses in a battle with SPLA in 2006.
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 was 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, the militia threatened to “wipe out the entire murle people from the face of the earth” and to fight both the SPLA and the UN force.
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 allowed to leave, as was SPLM’s secretary general 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 quickly spread around 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.