Updates on recent eruption of violence between SPLA and SPLA-IO in Juba

Author: The Sudd Institute

Date: 13 July 2016






Updates on recent eruption of violence between SPLA and SPLA-IO in Juba


The Sudd Institute


Owing to power struggle within the ruling party, the SPLM, South Sudan succumbed to a deadly war in December 2013. Former liberation colleagues Dr. Riek Machar and Salva Kiir Mayardit, turned against each other as, respectively, leaders of the warring parties. The intractable violence, which targeted both armed elements and civilians, continued for 2 years. The outbreak of violence in the nation’s capital, Juba, prompted the region and the rest of the world to rescue the youngest state from self-induced destruction. The warring parties immediately signed the cessation of hostilities agreement, but the pact was barely operationalized. Several other attempts, especially by East Africa’s economic bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, were made to end the war.  


A final settlement was secured this past August, and arrangements for the return of the opposition forces to Juba immediately undertaken. A number of hiccups ensued, delaying the implementation of the agreement 6 months. But in April 2016, the opposition forces finally returned to Juba and the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU) was formed, with Dr. Riek Machar, the Opposition chairman, sworn in as First Vice President. This marked the commencement of the operationalization of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS). Two and half months following the formation of TGONU, many aspects of the agreement remained unresolved, including full institution of the transitional national legislative assembly, adequate operationalization of the security arrangements, and the formation of the hybrid court, among others. Regional and international calls to South Sudanese leaders to fully implement the ARCISS have not received satisfactory responses.


Consequently, tension has been building up between SPLA-IG and SPLA-IO. On Thursday night, July 7, two days before South Sudan’s independence, violent confrontations between the two forces commenced, with no fewer than 10 fatalities, both soldiers and civilians (at least 5 government soldiers were killed). The events of Thursday night inflamed the situation, but TGONU leadership (President Kiir, Dr. Riek, and James Wani) responded by calling a high-level security meeting on Friday, partly to address previous night’s grievances and partly to prevent future escalations of violence.


On Friday (July 8), President Kiir, 1st Vice President Riek, and Vice President Wani met. While they met, their protection forces in and outside the state house premises fell for another deadly armed confrontation that unfortunately claimed the lives of over 200 soldiers and more than 30 civilians caught in crossfire. Seemingly alarmed, the peace principals expressed disappointment over the new bout of violence, assured the general public that they had nothing to do with either Thursday night or what had just happened before their eyes, and in a joint press conference called for immediate cessation of violence. Around mid night, the ARCISS parties dispersed to their houses, with Dr. Riek Machar who lost most of his guards earlier that day escorted by President Kiir’s guards, to safety. The rest of the night was relatively quiet.  


Then came Sunday (July 10) and around 8:30 AM heavy gunfire, with artillery type-weapons now involved, could be heard around Juba-Yei (Jebel) checkpoint. This occurred around the UN House, southwest of Juba City, and its surrounding suburbs, including Gudele. The two armies had resumed confrontation, this time much heavier than experienced on Friday. Around 5 pm, sporadic gunshots could still be heard around Jebel and northern Thongpiny, but the rest of the night went quiet. Jebel is cantonment site of the IO forces. The sound of gun died down around 6 PM. But this time countless civilians were put at risk, so they left their homes, with many trekking to the nearby UN protection of civilian sites (POCs), for safety. Like the rest of the preceding days, Sunday night was relatively quiet, perhaps partly due to a heavy rain.


Monday morning (July 11), roughly around 9 AM, heavy gunfire erupted again around Jebel and its surrounding suburbs, including Gudele, and continued into late evening. Many more civilians sought protection away from home. The UN suggests that over 30,000 civilians have been displaced. The situation remained tense. Jebel continued to be a site of carnage. Around 7 PM, however, the two leaders issued a unilateral declaration of ceasefire, which has held for the last two days so far.


Similarly, an hour into the night on Monday, the SPLA took to the streets and started shooting into the air, probably to celebrate a victory against the SPLA-IO forces. There was no official explanation of the reason for celebratory shooting. Since such was not communicated to the masses before hand, it caused great panic among civilians. Every corner of the city was lit with intense fireworks, shot into an evidently dark sky, frightening almost everyone in the city.


Overall, the consequences of these violent events are too great. In addition to unknown fatalities, thousands of more civilians have been displaced. Food and clean water shortage has hit the city. Businesses and health facilities have blacked out due to lack of fuel. Movement has been considerably constrained, so international hotels where a limited number of services could be accessed have become out of reach for many.  All of this has meant thousands of South Sudanese being put at so many risks, including hunger and diseases.


For those in Juba, these deadly events have rather been relatively easy to follow. But what remains murky is what exactly caused them. There are a number of reasons both sides advance. However, to establish real insights into this carnage needs an independent investigation. While this investigation gets instituted, there is a serious need for immediate humanitarian intervention, to lift the currently affected civilian population out of hunger and disease.  The ceasefire order the two leaders issued seems to he holding. This paves ways for both the government and international community to immediately provide humanitarian assistance. Nevertheless, the Sudd institute is concerned by the return to violence and calls upon the parties, now that the fighting has subsided, to ensure a thorough implementation of the ARCISS. 


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