Growing conflict between rebel and state affiliated factions of the ‘Sudan People’s Liberation Army’ (SPLA) has left nearly 10,000 dead, and around 395,000 internally displaced in South Sudan.
Tensions flared on December 15 when South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, accused his ex-Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of attempting to stage a coup against his government. While Machar had denied these claims, fighting between the two factions intensified, with rebel troops taking control of Unity State where the majority of the oil that accounts for 98% of South Sudan’s GDP is drilled. The government recaptured the capital Bentiu last week and claim the oil fields throughout Unity State have been “badly damaged” by the rebels.
Less than two years after the country succeeded by referendum from Sudan, many fear that the world’s newest nation is falling into civil war. On the 19th of December two Indian UN peacekeepers were killed by Nuer loyal to Mr Machar. The servicemen were shot when they were allegedly tricked by rebels who claimed that they were seeking shelter. Tensions continued to mount the following week, and evidence of war crimes was substantiated when a number of unidentified mass graves were discovered by UN peacekeeping staff outside of Juba, containing up to 50 bodies.
Amnesty International has since reported that the intensifying conflict between the Dinka and Nuer have seen large numbers of civilians violently targeted on the basis of their ethnicity. The fighting that began in Juba has since spread northwards across the country and over half the states, with no indication that it will soon abate. With both international and domestic tension mounting, a breakthrough was made on the 7th of January when representatives of President Kiir and Mr Machar met in Addis Ababa to begin peace talks. Initial disagreement surrounding the release of prisoners loyal to Mr Machar in exchange for a ceasefire has been temporarily resolved, as the opposition have dropped their release as a prerequisite for peace talks.
2013 was the first year that South Sudan was included in the Global Peace Index, where it ranked 143 out of 162 countries. With its high levels of homicide, political terror, and access to weapons, South Sudan ranks among the world’s least developed nations, with a large youth bulge and extremely low rates of education. Neighbouring Sudan has gradually improved in measures of peacefulness, but still ranks below its southern neighbour at number 158 on the 2013 GPI.
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