Thursday, January 23, 2014

Quick peace eludes S. Sudan leaders, despite Army victories

By Will Davison and Jason Patinkin
January 23, 2014 (Christian Science Monitor) – The month-old civil conflict in South Sudan has claimed some 10,000 lives, with major towns razed to the ground and half a million people displaced. Amid the fighting, negotiators have been holding peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia.
In recent days government forces, supported byUgandan troops, apparently wrested two key towns, Bor and Malakal (both important to the oil industry) from the control of rebels. Yet despite initial hopes, there are signs that a quick peace may be further away, not closer, in the world’s newest nation. One reason is a lack of command and control over an ill-disciplined military that may be reverting to its roots as a militia.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the core military force, is a sprawling patchwork of local commanders who at times fought each other, as well as the government of Khartoum, during decades of insurgency. South Sudan’s leadership rivalry has led commanders and their patronage networks into shifting alliances between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former vice-president Riek Machar, according to analysts.
Even if Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar agree to a ceasefire – and so far Machar has not even shown up at talks in Addis Ababa – they may struggle to enforce it. The risk is that unit commanders will form and disband alliances as the opportunity dictates, underlining the failure of politicians like Kiir to forge a unified army.
Diplomats in Addis Ababa are still worried about a full-blown, prolonged civil war as the SPLA and rebels strive for a clear battlefield victory at the expense of the peace talks here.
Harry Verhoeven, an expert in African Politics from Oxford University says that both leaders “continue to believe in all-out military victory,” and that Kiir, with Uganda’s support, has an advantage and can “go for broke … a move that risks starting a wider regional escalation of the conflict.”
The conflict research group Small Arms Survey warns that if South Sudan’s government controls major towns while opposition forces roam the countryside, fighting could prove to be “interminable.”
The current crisis began last month as a power struggle between Kiir and Machar, but quickly took on a brutal ethnic or tribal character, dividing neighbors and friends across the country’s north and east.
The deep-seated rivalry between the two rebels-turned-politicians stems partly from their presidential ambitions – an election is due in 2015 – and the determination to control the movement that liberated the new nation. Both men are more accustomed to leading troops than politicking.
To get the peace talks in Addis Ababa started, Machar called on Kiir to release 11 prisoners accused of helping to plot a coup in December, and he faces Western pressure to release them as well. During the peace talks, Kiir has also turned to Uganda for military support that would allow him to prolong a fight for territory and leverage.
Despite the SPLA’s retaking of Bor and Malakal this week, the rebels vow to continue. “We are still in control of rural areas,” Brig.Gen. Lul Ruai Koang of the rebels said Monday. “These [government] people are more or less surrounded. They are trapped.”

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