South Sudan is witnessing a sharp rise in armed conflict—with less than three months to go before the formal independence of the fledgling nation. Heavy fighting has killed some 1,000 and displaced an estimated 100,000 since southerners voted overwhelmingly for independence in January, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The fighting is centered in Unity and Jonglei states, near the border with the North (see map). The most recent clashes have pitted the southern armed forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) against a breakaway SPLA faction led by Peter Gadet, who has taken up arms against the South Sudan government. (Reuters, May 11; IRIN, April 26)
As the fighting has escalated, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other Sudanese officials have stated that despite the nearly unanimous results of the plebiscite for secession, the North will not recognize the new state of South Sudan on July 9—citing the unresolved dispute over the border enclave of Abyei, claimed by both sides. Violence continues there between the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya ethnic groups, and military forces from the North and South are said to be infiltrating the enclave in a bid to impose their control over it. (AhramOnline, Egypt, May 14)
A local referendum on the status of Abyei, stipulated by the 2005 North-South peace accord, has been postponed indefinitely due to disagreements over terms. Nonetheless, the South Sudanese government in Juba recently voiced its intention to include Abyei in the area considered under the purview of its new constitution now being drafted. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayadrit pledged to remove Abyei from the draft constitution last week after meeting with a delegation of US, UN and AU diplomats who expressed concern over the move. (Sudan Tribune, May 14)
Sudan’s President Bashir, meanwhile, travelled to Djibouti this weekend for the inauguration of the mini-state’s re-elected president, Ismail Omar Guelleh—sparking protests from the International Criminal Court. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo chastised Djibouti for failing to arrest Bashir, who is wanted by the court for his role in the Darfur genocide. (AFP, May 14)
There are also signs of international conflict brewing on South Sudan’s southern borders—especially in the Ilemi Triangle area, which is divided between Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia. Borders have been disputed here since colonial times, and—as in the current struggle between North and South Sudan—rival powers have groomed local ethnic groups as proxies. In the most recent flare-up last week, more than 40 members of the Turkana ethnicity—including women and children—who had crossed from Kenyan territory into Ethiopia’s Jinka district to buy food at a market there were apparently attacked and massacred by militiamen from the Merille (Daasanach) people. There have been growing accusations in recent months of Merille and Toposa tribesmen crossing from Ethiopian to Kenyan territory to raid local villages. All of these groups also have populations within South Sudanese territory, and there are fears that either of the southern neighbors could exploit the conflict to try to carve a piece of land from the weak new state. (CSM, May 10; The Standard, Nairobi, May 14; Nairobi Star, May 4)
See our last post on the struggle in Sudan.