Wed, Jun 27, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Born out of brutality, South Sudan drowns

As thousands flee the vicious civil war, families seeking safety in the swamp town of Nyal tell of villagers murdered and their homes burnt to the ground by government forces

By Peter Beaumont  /  The Observer

If South Sudan is important, it is because it has become starkly representative of a series of recent and intractable conflicts, whose defining feature is their post-ideological and almost privatized struggles for individual power — represented by ministerial office and its trappings — largely beyond the reach of international peacekeeping efforts.

And with the conflict exporting large numbers of refugees over its borders, it has an increasing regional significance.

While Machar and Kiir were prominent in the conflict against Khartoum that led to independence, they now represent one of the fault lines around which the new nation has fractured since 2013, when Kiir accused Machar, then his deputy, of attempting a coup d’etat.

Since then, three rounds of peace negotiations — most recently the face-to-face talks last week between Kiir and Machar in Ethiopia — have failed to end a conflict increasingly marked by Kiir’s government’s increasing authoritarianism and inter-ethnic violence.

Leaked reports from the body charged with ceasefire monitoring in the nation depict similar grave abuses to those gathered by the Observer: a young girl strangled and gang-raped, children burned alive as government soldiers blocked the door of their hut and set it aflame.

Largely lacking any ideological basis, South Sudan’s conflicts have become a carousel of violence pitting rival elites from different tribes and political groupings against each other as they compete for power.

Despite three rounds of peace talks, the threat of new sanctions from the UN security council last month and a worsening humanitarian situation, no lasting solution appears in sight.

The reality is that after decades of intermittent conflict, the promise of independence for the world’s newest country has delivered not so much a state that has failed, but one that never succeeded in the first place.

With much of the impoverished nation’s tiny budget going to military spending, rampant inflation and an economy in free fall, hundreds of thousands have been displaced both to neighboring Uganda and even to the old enemy, Sudan, in the north.

While peace talks have delivered occasional pauses in the killing, critics say that they have also produced further impetus for conflict as rival factions have internalized the message that violence and the threat of instability is a ticket to a seat at the talks.

The most recent was the formation of the South Sudan United Front announced in April by former Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) chief of general staff General Paul Malong Awan.

He was sanctioned in February by the US and the EU for atrocities committed by his forces in support of Kiir, but is now at odds with him.

The result of the spiraling violence is one of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises. The total of South Sudanese refugees has now passed 2 million, which makes it the largest refugee crisis in Africa, and the third largest in the world, after Syria and Afghanistan, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In addition, more than 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes, but still remain inside the country.

The conflict is having a less obvious effect on the nation’s social structure — not least fostering a climate of endemic violent crime that has forced foreign aid workers to adopt their own 7pm curfew.

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