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Inside Story

South Sudan: Sliding into civil war?

As the UN decides to push more troops into the country, we ask if it can save the world's newest nation from collapse.

Last updated: 25 Dec 2013 11:40
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In a little more than a week, the world's newest country seems to be unravelling. What started as a power struggle between the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and his former deputy Riek Machar, has become a fight between rival ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer.

Perhaps this is the settling of old scores ... It is not just the outsiders [the UN] that should be urging them [Salva Kiir and Riek Machar], people within each of these groups must be laying down the foundation so that their leaders can get together and talk.

Douglas Johnson, the author of 'The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars'

The UN says that the violence over the last week has already claimed more than a thousand lives. Many more have fled the fighting and are seeking refuge in crowded UN camps.

The United Nations Security Council has approved plans to almost double the number of UN peacekeepers in South Sudan.

The 15-member council unanimously authorised a request by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to boost the strength of the UN mission in South Sudan to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police - up from its previous mandate of 7,000 troops and 900 police.

Earlier on Tuesday the top UN humanitarian chief in the country said thousands of South Sudanese have been killed in the week-long violence, giving the first clear indication of the scale of conflict engulfing the young nation.

Hilde Johnson, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that "terrible atrocities have been committed and perpetrators will have to be held accountable."

She said the situation "will turn into a large scale humanitarian crisis if the violence does not stop."

South Sudan's former vice president has said that he is ready to negotiate with Salva Kiir if his political allies are released from jail. But Riek Machar insisted the president would have to give up power.

What we are doing in Juba right now is we are not leading, we are managing crisis. So we need pressures from the region and international communities to bring both sides to negotiation.

Rebecca Garang, and adviser to the president of South Sudan

"The SPLM (Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement) is the ruling party and the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army ) is the national army and I believe these two organisations can end the term of President Kiir. President Kiir has failed to unite the people. He is inciting inter-ethnic fighting. Now he [Salva Kiir] is dividing the country. So it is best he leaves, and I believe the SPLA and SPLM can make him leave," Machar said.

The UN Secretary General says the reinforcements would come from other UN missions already in Africa.

While the international community tries to push rival sides in South Sudan to the negotiating table, increasing reports of ethnically based killings raises fears that it may be too late.

So, will more UN soldiers be able save the world's newest nation from an all-out civil war? Will both sides step back from their current confrontation or is it different this time?

To discuss this, Inside Story presenter Folly Bah Thibault is joined by guests: Choul Laam, the chief of staff for the secretary general of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement; Douglas Johnson who has written several books on South Sudan including The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars; and Rebecca Garang, an adviser to the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and the widow of John Garang, who was the chairman of the SPLM, the rebel movement that signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government in 2005 - a deal that eventually led to South Sudan's independence.

"If they [the foreign troops] come, they could protect the UN staff and civilians but they are still going to be in great danger .... We need to bring actors to the negotiation table ... Their situation is very difficult. It is difficult for President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. And they need to be linked. I believe the detainees could be the link between the two .... Despite their political differences, they could come together for the sake of the country, for the civilians, for the cause of what they fought for the last 30 years."

Choul Laam, the chief of staff for the secretary general of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM)

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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