Press Release: The Sudd Institute on the Situation of Insecurity in Juba
Author: Sudd Institute
Date: 17 December 2013
December 17, 2013 – Juba, South Sudan. This press statement is an attempt to make sense of the events of December 15 through 17Th in Juba, when members of the Tiger Battalion of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the nation’s defense forces, split and engaged in atrocious fights against one another. The fight broke out at two locations on Sunday night, the army command center located Southwest of Juba town and Bilpam army barracks to the north of Juba International Airport, before it spread to other areas within the city limits. By Tuesday afternoon, the fight was extended to the state house and the residence of the president, triggering the heaviest artillery fight to rebuff a number of soldiers that had climbed to the top of a high rise building and launched fire into the president’s compound.
The government claims that it successfully foiled an attempted coup orchestrated and led by the former Vice President, Riek Machar Teny, a charge which Mr. Machar reportedly denies as per Sudan Tribune website. The fighting has resulted in the death of many soldiers and civilians, the latter of whom died in cross fire, including people who died inside their homes from gun shots or crashed when tanks rolled over their bodies. Further reports suggest that the final count in the next few days will most certainly reveal a much higher death toll, injury and damage to property.
This is arguably the most devastating politically motivated incident since 2005 when the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) was signed to end the north-south war of the old Sudan. Most residents of Juba that were interviewed during the second day of fighting spoke of being frightened and devastated that South Sudanese citizens should continue to die at the hands of their own leaders even in times of supposed peace and freedom. Thousands of people had to flee their homes and sought refuge inside the United Nations Mission camp, church and mosque grounds, or with their relatives who were further away from the areas of fighting or fled the city all together. Normal life, if there has been such a thing in South Sudan to begin with, was totally disrupted, happening on the eve of preparations for Christmas and prayer for this year to end peacefully and the next to usher in hope and promise.
The scenes of devastation remain almost unbelievable, all visible in so many forms, from the wounds of dying men in hospitals, dead bodies piled up while relatives are too scared to venture out to identify their loved ones, the misery on the faces of the displaced, especially children who suddenly found themselves without roof over their heads and no food to eat, as the shops remain close. All the while, sounds of gunfight, traversed with heart-shaking mortar and tank blasts have all spread fear in the population, leaving them hostage to the mercy of a few people competing for leadership.
The damage of this incident on future national cohesion, image of the country and its efforts to encourage investment from outside will be even far greater. Foreign diplomatic missions, the United Nations and NGOs have advised their staff to evacuate from South Sudan. International flights to and out of Juba were canceled, local businesses were shut and a nighttime curfew from dusk to dawn was imposed, all of which must have serious consequences for business, the price of which is yet to be tallied. Also uncertain is the fate of political stability in the whole country, especially in light of the accusation of so many political leaders as the ringleaders of the alleged botched coup, some of whom have been arrested and others remaining at large.
While the fighting within Juba town is contained, there remains a great uncertainty about the future of this country, as both sides have not expressed immediate need for dialogue as a solution. The Sudd Institute calls for restrain, so that the country does not plunge into chaos and self-destruction. We also call upon the government to reach out to all the communities with messages of restrain, announcing investigation into these acts and calling for peaceful coexistence. This should not be done on television and radio only, as has been done already, but it should also be done through mobile loud speakers in the neighborhoods. It may also be necessary for security, political leaders and civil society to hold rallies with communities most affected by this fighting and have discussions on how to move this country past these regrettable events. Lastly, the government and all political leaders on each side of the political divide should urgently seek dialogue to bring an end to any further escalation of the conflict.