“The renewed fighting is outrageous. It is yet another grievous setback. It deepens the country’s suffering. It makes a mockery of commitments to peace,” the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a press statement, adding that “many people have been killed in heavy fighting”.
On Monday, July 11, a ceasefire came into effect, after days of heavy fighting in South Sudan’s capital Juba between government and armed-opposition forces, undermining a peace agreement signed in August 2015 by President Salva Kiir and now First Vice President Riek Machar.
The incident that happened was very unfortunate and it’s uncalled for.
Almost 300 people, soldiers and civilians, were killed already on Thursday, when fighting broke out at the Presidential Palace in Juba, just two days before the country was due to mark its fifth independence anniversary.
“The incident that happened was very unfortunate and it’s uncalled for,” President Kiir said. The two leaders told journalists that they were in control and promised to contain the situation.
But despite their assurances the situation deteriorated. Heavy artillery and gunships have been deployed in Juba during renewed fighting on Sunday and Monday. Amid scant facts and confusion, no estimates of the civilian death toll are available.
“It’s terrible now, shooting everywhere. People could not walk outside. Many people have had no food for almost three days,” said a resident of Gudele, a site which has witnessed intense clashes, on Monday, July 11.
“Honestly I feel so bad that we trusted the wrong people in the current leadership. It seems that the lives of their citizens don’t matter as compared to their greed for power,” a South Sudanese person living in the Ugandan capital said.
Many residents have been holed up in their houses during the fighting, uncertain of where they can flee to and how far away the violence was. Given the economic woes and food shortages, following more than two years of civil war, the latest fighting has sparked looters to go on the rampage.
It’s very disappointing that the peace everyone has been hoping for is gone.
“There is looting in Juba na Bari,” said one Juba resident. “The situation is a very confusing,” another said.
“It’s very disappointing that the peace everyone has been hoping for is gone. I would love both President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar to come together share ideas and see how to bring peace to the country instead of continuing to fight each other,” said another Juba resident.
International shock and outrage
Members of the Security Council condemned the escalation. “The members of the Security Council expressed particular shock and outrage at the attacks on U.N. compounds and Protection of Civilians sites in Juba. The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms all attacks and provocations against civilians and the United Nations,” it said in a statement.
The members urged an immediate end to fighting and demanded that President Kiir and First Vice President Machar should control their respective forces. They asked the two leaders to genuinely commit themselves to the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement, including the permanent ceasefire and redeployment of military forces from Juba.
Observers have been disappointed with the slow pace of progress towards the peace agreement which was signed almost a year ago. Disagreements have mainly centred on cantonment sites and the demilitarisation of Juba. While politicians talked, sporadic fighting continued in different parts of the country.
The two sides are supposed to form and train a joint military police to provide peace and security in the capital, another plan which has yet to materialise.
Members of the security council also warned that attacks against civilians and U.N. premises and personnel may constitute war crimes.
They emphasised the importance of transparent investigations into these crimes, urging that those involved must be held accountable and could be subject to sanctions as authorised under resolution 2206 (2015) for actions that threaten the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.
Members of the Security Council encouraged countries in the region, the African Union Peace and Security Council and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to continue firmly engaging with South Sudanese leaders to address the crisis.
The members of the Security Council threw their weight behind the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). They said they were ready to think about boosting the role of UNMISS to help prevent and respond to violence in South Sudan.
They also encouraged states in the region to prepare to provide additional troops in the event the Council decides to take military action.
Meanwhile, members of the Security Council stressed the need for UNMISS to protect civilians.
Festus Gontebanye Mogae, the Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the peace deal added his voice to the chorus urging an immediate end to hostilities.
“The Chairperson of JMEC has reacted with regret to the reported fighting in Juba, which has not relented in the past two days,” said President Mogae in a statement, adding that bloodshed should be halted.
UNMISS said in a statement that there was heavy fighting in close proximity to the UNMISS compounds at UN House Jebel and Tomping, in Juba. The United Nations has provided refuge for more than 200,000 internally displaced persons since fighting erupted in Juba in December 2013.
The United Nations urges all parties to respect the civilian nature of the PoC sites.
“The United Nations urges all parties to respect the civilian nature of the PoC sites. U.N. peacekeepers are also mobilised to protect UNMISS bases,” read the statement.
President Festus Mogae in his address to the extra-ordinary session of the IGAD council of ministers in Nairobi on Monday said “the ongoing armed conflict in South Sudan is regrettably a major setback in the implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan”.