South Sudan: Update In-Depth: Rebels Advance on Bor as Uganda Warns Machar

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As rebels advance on Bor and Uganda warns Machar, those on the ground watching the situation unfold are anxious for an in-depth South Sudan update. The remnants of the White Army that have been marching toward Bor over the past days have gotten within miles of the city.  Observers expect a serious battle within the next 24 hours.

The two forces–the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the rebel army–had engaged in a limited manner Sunday, Dec. 29, when the SPLA soldiers stationed in Bor had come out of that city to attack the approaching White Army.

The White Army is Lou Nuer, a tribe loyal to former Vice President rebel leader Riek Machar.  On Dec. 30, army spokesman colonel Philip Aguer announced that the rebel forces were expected to attack the city soon, but that Aguer was confident that the government army would keep them from taking Bor.

The White Army had advanced toward Bor over the previous days. South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei reported that the rebel force, initially 25 000-strong, had been largely convinced by Nuer tribal elders to discontinue the mission. 5,000 of the youth army continued, dislodging SPLA troops from Mathiang, a town near Bor, before proceeding another 18 miles to the city. The rebels have 30 vehicles and are armed with machine guns, according to Aguer.

Bor had been taken by rebels days after the South Sudanese conflict originally broke out Dec. 15 and was retaken by the SPLA on Dec. 24. On Saturday the rebel forces commented on this, saying that their troop withdrew briefly for tactical reasons but that the rebels would reclaim the town in time to prevent lynchings of Bor residents suspected of rebel support.

During the days after the rebels were forced out of Bor, they staged several attacks on the city, but civilians had begun returning to Bor, according to SPLA spokesmen. However, in fear of the White Army’s advance, civilians have again fled, this time across the White River into the neighboring state, according to UN reconnaissance.

Gadiang, north of Bor, also had seen clashes between the two forces on Dec. 29. The rebel group in this instance was believed to be loyal to rebel leader David Yuayau. In addition to killings, workers in the area were warned by the rebel leader to cease work, and people’s phones were taken.

Yauyau, a politician who failed to become representative of his home country Pibor in last year’s elections, is one of three men who rebelled against the government in May last year.

Malakal was retaken by the government Sunday, Dec. 29 after a fierce battle, and the SPLA had pursued the rebels outside of the town, according to the South Sudanese government. Malakal had been partially controlled by both forces during the previous week, during which time the two forces had engaged several times.

Juba, the capital of South Sudan, is under maximum security control, according to the Aguer.

The current number of displaced South Sudanese is 180,000, according to the UN. 75,000 are receiving refuge in UN compounds around the country; 20,000 around Bor and 22,000 around Malakal.  According to the army, 1,000 government soldiers have been wounded.

Aid organizations working in South Sudan have asked for $209 million to provide for the next three months. They have received $43 million so far.

Both President Kiir and Machar are facing growing international pressure to resolve their dispute.  The UN delegation in Juba has repeatedly urged Kiir to find a means to engage Machar in dialogue to avoid further turmoil.  The UN fears that the conflict could escalate into a tribal civil war.  Other South Sudanese and international activists and organizations have also been vocal about seeking immediate conflict resolution.

The UN, who has the largest international presence in South Sudan, has had some success in mitigating the conflict.  The UN mission started conducting aerial reconnaissance flights Dec. 29 to monitor the White Army’s progress through Jonglei state. UN representatives contacted the White Army to convince them to halt for the sake of avoiding further escalation, according to UN spokespeople.

The UN is doubling its peace-keeping force in South Sudan to nearly 14,000, which should be fully installed in South Sudan within two weeks. The troops will be redeployed from other UN missions in Liberia, Darfur, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere.

Other East African nations have begun to involve themselves in the conflict. At a meeting last week held in Nairobi, attended by the six nations of East Africa’s IGAD organization, several resolutions were made regarding the rebel uprising. According to South Sudan’s Cabinet Affairs Minister, “The government accepted in principle to do four things. First, we accepted to stop hostilities as [a] priority. We also accepted to release political detainees; some of them have already been released. Thirdly, we accepted and commit ourselves to peaceful dialogue without preconditions. The fourth one is to provide access to all areas for humanitarian assistances and operations.”

Monday, the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, threatened Machar, stating that if Machar fails to heed the ceasefire demanded by IGAD, that region’s leaders would band together against Machar’s forces. Museveni has sent Ugandan troops to fortify Kiir’s SPLA.

“We gave Riek Machar four days to respond and if he doesn’t we shall have to go for him, all of us, that is what we agreed in Nairobi,” Museveni told reporters, referring to the deadline of Dec. 31 by which time IGAD members wanted Machar to call off his attacks.

The intentions of neighbor states in South Sudan have been questioned by some activists and politicians who suspect that IGAD leaders have double standards and are not interested primarily in ending South Sudan’s current conflict. One political prisoner released by the South Sudanese government last Friday, former Minister for Higher Education Adwok Nyaba, alleged that Uganda had close to 3,000 troops and some war planes active in South Sudan. The Ugandan government dismissed these allegations.

“That remains speculative and I have no idea that we’ve engaged in such an action at all,” said a spokesman for the Ugandan army.

A Ugandan MiG-29 bombed rebel-held positions near Bor before Kiir’s SPLA retook that town from the rebels, according to Machar in an interview given Dec. 27. Marchar complained that Uganda was interfering in the internal affairs of South Sudan.

Ethiopia, fearing a civil war, began evacuating its 15,000 citizens who reside in South Sudan in the hundreds. 650 Ethiopians have been evacuated from Nasir town in Upper Nile state, 300 Ethiopians have been flown out of Bor to Juba on UN helicopters, and 800 Ethiopians were evacuated from Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, to Heglig oil field on the northern border.

Other international residents have also evacuated hundreds of their citizens from South Sudan during the past weeks.

Although EGAD and the South Sudanese President have called for immediate peace talks, President Kiir has flatly refused any possibility of sharing power with Machar. Kiir stated that sharing power was “not an option.” Kiir cited his claims that Machar had attempted a coup and stated that Machar did not deserve to share power in South Sudan: “These men have rebelled. If you want power, you don’t rebel so that you are rewarded with the power. You go through the process.”

Machar, for his pary, stated on the 29th that he would not participate in any talks with the government until all political prisoners were freed from Juba.

The origin of the South Sudanese conflict lies in hostilities that broke out in Juba between the guards of South Sudan’s President Kiir and former Vice President Machar Dec. 15. The conflict quickly and spontaneously spread across South Sudan’s 10 states.

By Day Blakely Donaldson


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South Sudan: 987 Wounded Government Troops

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Currently, 987 SPLA government soldiers are being treated in Juba Military hospital in the capitol of South Sudan, according to Vice President Wani Igga.

The news comes after a day of reports that a 25,000-strong Nuer tribal youth army loyal to Riek Machar had been marching towards the capital city, Juba, in the capitol of South Sudan and reports that the forces had ambitions to attack Bor city.

Bor is the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei province.  Bor was captured by the rebels on December 18.  The rebels were not able to hold the city when the government army attacked and soon left without much resistance.  Philip Aguer, army spokesperson, had earlier Saturday stated that the rebels were preparing for a fresh offensive to retake the city of Bor.

Jonglei officials have appealed to humanitarian organizations to provide food to Bor residents after the Bor market was devastated by fighting.

The SPLA army announced that it has initiated a force to recapture the rebel-held capital of Unity State, Bentiu.

The government also announced that it has agreed to release to the rebel forces; 11 political prisoners, up from its previous offer of 8, which offer was declined by Machar.

The 987 wounded government troops are being treated at the Juba military hospital, South Sudan.

By Day Blakely Donaldson


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South Sudan: 25 000-Strong White Army Marches as UN’s 6000 Troops Begin to Arrive

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The White Army, 25 000 strong, is moving toward Juba, the capital of South Sudan, as the first of the UN’s 6000 troops arrive.

The army is a tribal militia local to the Lou Nuer sub-clan. Former Vice President Riek Machar is also Lou Nuer.

Information Minister Michael Makuel Lueth stated that Machal had organized the White Army in the name of his tribe. Opposition leader Machar is Nuer and President Kiir is Dinka.

Juba was the initial site of the rebel outburst of violence when on December 15 President Kiir accused his former Vice President Riek Machar of attempting a foiled coup. Forces loyal to Machar began violence against Kiir, according to the government. Machar’s forces charge that the violence began when Kiir’s guards tried to disarm Machar’s guards.  Machar and his party have since called for the end of Kiir’s presidency.

Since that time, in Juba a door-to-door search was conducted and hundreds were arrested from houses and hotels.

Friday, the governments of South Sudan and other East African nations announced that they were ready for “a ceasefire to begin immediately.” IGAD, the 8-country regional trading bloc in East Africa, demanded that negotiations begin before the year’s end.

The South Sudanese government also promised to release eight political prisoners that were arrested since the fighting began. Two of the eight were released already. Machar had demanded the release of 11 political prisoners as a precondition for negotiations. At this point, the government was unwilling to release the former Finance Minster, former Cabinet Affairs Minister, or former Secretary General.

Machar responded to the announcements of the Kiir government in a BBC satellite-phone interview stating that any negotiation would have to be participated in by both sides of the conflict, not just the South Sudanese government and neighbor nations.

Machar said in the interview that a mechanism to monitor any ceasefire would also be necessary: ”For the ceasefire to be credible there is need for a mechanism, or else we will be deceiving ourselves,” said Machar.

The South Sudanese government complained that Machar was putting obstacles in front of a genuine call for peace and that the “main issue now is to stop violence.”

The UN estimates that around 1000 have died in the two weeks of fighting. 63 000 are seeking refuge in UN compounds around South Sudan. 120 000 have been displaced.

UN reinforcements also arrived Friday. This 72-member contingent of UN police is the first to arrive since the UNSC voted last week to double its peacekeeping force in concerns that South Sudan may slide into civil war. 6000 more troops are expected to arrive Saturday.

Bor, in addition to Juba, is also believed to be a target of the rebel forces. Jonglei’s provincial capital was taken by the rebels December 18. The army defeated the rebels there without much resistance December 24. Philip Aguer, army spokesperson, stated his belief that the rebels are preparing their forces for a fresh offensive to retake Bor.

The White Army in 2011 announced that the Nuer would fight until their rival tribe were completely eradicated and that the government should stay out of their way.  The White Army was formed as early as 1991 to protect Nuer cattle and to fight as a minor participant in the Second Sudanese Civil War.

The bulk of the UN’s 6000 troops is expected to arrive Saturday, as the 25 000-strong White Army march toward the capital of South Sudan.

By Day Blakely Donaldson


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South Sudan: Rebels Hold out in Malakal, Seize Oil Wells

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Malakal, South Sudan – In the capital of the Upper Nile State, fighting continued for the third day as the rebel forces held out against the government army; rebels have also seized oil wells in the region.

Oil production in the Upper Nile State has been shut down due to this weeks fighting. Oil output is down a fifth to 200 000 barrels per day. The rebels-held oil wells are a concern to the government and oil companies, who fear the rebels may damage the facilities.

South Sudan’s army spokesman Philip Aguer stated again that the rebels, who control half of Malakal, will be defeated soon.

South Sudan’s President Kiir met with Uhura Kenyatta and Hailemariam Desalegn, Kenya’s President and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister. This meeting was set in Juba and lasted three hours. It is not known whether Riek Machar, the former Vice President of South Sudan, was involved in the talks. The current whereabouts of Machar are unknown.

The two opposing leaders have stated that their disagreement is political, and leaders from neighboring countries have spoken out against foreign press who might be creating the impression that the conflict is inter-ethnic.  However, both Dinka and Nuer people are in fear of tribal (aka ethnic) violence at each others hands during the political conflict, according to the personal testimony of many of those affected on the ground.

Civil strife began in Juba on December 15 after President Kiir accused former Vice President Machar of attempting to stage a coup and Machar accuesd Kiir of attempting to purge his rivals.  South Sudanese loyal to Machar began violence against the government in several cities.  The rebels were forced out of Juba and Bor but have been able to hold half of Malakar; the government holds the other half.

Currently, 58 000 civilians are seeking refuge in UN compounds, according to UN spokespersons. 93 000 people have been displaced by the nearly two weeks of fighting.

The UN is awaiting military and personnel reinforcements. UN officials are working to finalize the details of the reinforcements that were voted on Tuesday. The vote was to increase the peacekeeping force to 12 500 soldiers and 1300 police officers. This is a doubling of the current UN force in the country.

UN officials commented on their concern about recreating “nightmares of the past” in African peacekeeping and their surprise at the rapidity and scale at which the deterioration of order in South Sudan has occurred.

UN top official in South Sudan Hilde Johnson, whose task it is to oversee the protection of civilians in the UN camps said, “All peacekeepers are under instruction to use force when civilians are under imminent threat.”

The first UN reinforcements are expected in two days.

China has announced that it will spend a special envoy to South Sudan. China has a significant stake in oil production in South Sudan.

Australia has offered two large military transport aircraft, a Globemaster and a Hercules, to assist with the in- and outflow from South Sudan. Australia is awaiting UN instructions before sending the aircraft.

Nairobi will be the location of the next international meeting between South Sudan and its neighbors. This meeting is scheduled for Friday.  The goal of these talks will be to end the rebel hold out in South Sudan.

Written by Day Blakely Donaldson


Land and Sea Journal

South Sudan: Fighting Continues in Malakal After Bor Recaptured

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Malakal in the Upper Nile State of Sudan is the site of the most recent fighting, continuing the now-10-day struggle for power between the Kiir government and the Machar-led rebels. Malakal is the capital of the Upper Nile State, an oil region.

On December 24 the South Sudan army defeated the rebels without much resistance in Bor, which had been under siege for a week after the rebels took it late Wednesday. The violence in Bor prompted 17 000 civilians to flee to UN compounds. Information Minister Michael Makwei said, “We recaptured Bor on Tuesday evening, just before sunset, and this morning there are currently operations against some pockets of rebels within the airport area,” also announcing that the remaining rebels were on the run.

The Sudanese government has stated that Malakal has not fallen to the rebels, but fighting continues. Much of Jonglei state is still held by the rebels.

The unrest began 10 days ago on December 15 and quickly spread from Juba. The country was divided between Nuer and Dinka ethnicities.

Fighting began Tuesday between rebels and government loyalists after President Kiir accused his former Vice President Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Machar countered that Kiir was on a campaign to purge his rivals. Machar vowed to oust Kiir and called on the army to carry out this purpose. A powerful army commander mutinied last week, joined Machar, and seized Bentiu.

A mass grave was reported to have been discovered in Bentiu. On Tuesday UN officials stated that the remains of up to 75 Dinka soldiers (Sudan People’s Liberation Army). Bentiu is the capital of the rebel-held Unity State. Two other mass graves were found in Juba. UN officers have not been able to visit the two Juba grave-sites, in Jebel-Kujur and Newside, near Eden. These killings followed ethnic violence. (The reports of the mass grave in Bentiu is currently under review after being denied by the UN mission in South Sudan. The report was initially issued by the office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, and was later revised to 34 bodies and 75 missing persons.)

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay stated, “Mass extrajudicial killings, the targeting of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity and arbitrary detentions have been documented in recent days.”

Pillay also talked about the hundreds of civilians were who arrested from houses and hotels in Juba during a house-to-house search.

The same Tuesday a resolution was passed by the UN Security Council to send an additional 5500 peacekeepers to South Sudan. The force will likely be assembled from peacekeepers currently stationed in other African countries. The UN also intends to boost contributions.

Currently, 40 000 Sudanese are sheltered in UN bases. Civilians of both tribes fear being killed by ethnic enemies. Relief organizations are struggling to handle thousands who are caught in the fighting or have fled from violence in the capital. 80 000 Sudanese have been forced to leave their homes.

Responding to allegations of “death squads” carrying out ethnicity-targeted massacres, South Sudan foreign minister, Barnaba Benjamin, replied, “This is not an ethnic war frankly speaking…. It is true that this is a struggle for power, a political struggle.” Benjamin admitted that there were isolated cases of genocidal killing, but asserted that this was not the main theme of the conflict, and reminded observers that the army was mixed-race.

U.S. Marines have been moved to Djibouti in preparation for the evacuation of Americans and to protect U.S. facilities.

December 15, President Kiir accused former Vice President Machar of attempting a coup in Juba, which attempt Machar denied. Kiir is Dinka and Machar is Nuer. Both leaders have indicated their willingness to talk peace.

President Kiir announced, “Innocent people have been wantonly killed. People are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation. This is unacceptable…. These atrocities recurring by now have to cease immediately.”

Machar announced December 24: “Yes we are ready for talks. I have formed my delegation.” This delegation would likely attend talks in Ethiopia, with whose government Machar had been in communication. Ethiopia was decided on as a site of “neutral ground.” Machar himself would not go to Ethiopia, he said.

However, Machar announced that he was willing to negotiate only on condition that detained political prisoners were freed by the government. Kiir rejected this condition.

A spokesman from the army stated that within a few days the army would attack Bentiu.

Americans and UN officials members of every level have called for peace. Commentators have started to voice concern over the compatibility of the Sudanese situation with the Central African Republic and other African nations which slid into genocide and lawlessness. For now, fighting continues in Malakal after Bor was recaptured yesterday.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

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South Korea Claims Airspace Overlapping Japanese and Chinese Claims

South Korea Claims Airspace Overlapping Japanese and Chinese Claims
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Dec 8. South Korea has announced the extension of its air defense zone (to take effect Dec. 15).  The new zone overlaps the zones claimed by Japan and China.

In the East China Sea a dispute arose Nov. 23 when China announced new borders for its air defense zone, and warned that all aircraft entering this space must notify the Chinese authorities in advance, and that China’s air force would be on high alert to firmly protect its airspace.

This warning was directed particularly at Japan, who has held an air zone which is overlapped by China’s recent claim.  This zone was decided by the victors of WWII, and is protected by America through the Japanese-American Treaty of Mutual Protection.  The new Chinese zone also claims a submerged rock and research station belonging to South Korea.

The Senkaku Islands were annexed by Japan in 1895, before which no country had pronounced any claim over them.  America occupied them for a period after the 1945 Japanese surrender.  The islands have been used for ecological surveys and US military bombing sites since the 1940’s, when the last residents stopped fishing there.  The islands were privately owned by Japanese entrepreneurs since 1900 and rented by the Japanese government until 2012 when the Japanese government bought the islands.

Taiwan and China have claimed the islands since 1971.  China and Taiwan claim ownership from 1534 and claim that the islands, though signed over to Japan in the first Sino-Japanese war, should return to China because after WWII Japan released certain of its territories.  Japan rejects both claims.

No details specific to these islands are contained in the treaties wherein Japan gained or ceded control of her empire.  What is stated in both the 1895 and the 1951 treaties is that Japan gains and then relinquishes Formosa and “all islands appertaining to or belong to Formosa.”

America administered the area from WWII to 1972, when it returned ownership to Japan.  The US does not have an official position on the competing claims.  However, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan binds America to protect these islands (confirmed by US government officials 2004, 2010, and 2012, when the US senate amended the National Defense act for 2013 to specifically cover the Senkakus as protected Japanese territory).  The US government has also mentioned the Senkakus specifically since the discovery of nearby oil reserves in 1969 and since the Taiwanese and Chinese contentions in 1971.  Before that time, the Senkakus were not mentioned; only the Ryukyu island chain was mentioned as Japanese territory.

Recent years have seen protests and clashes between Chinese and Japanese boats and in some cases air craft.

Nov. 23 after announcing their claim, China sent an air force mission to patrol the area.  Japanese commercial flights were ordered to disregard the Chinese warnings.  Nov. 26 America, who declared the airspace international, flew two unarmed B-52s through it.  The US military stated that they would continue to do so and without identifying themselves.  South Korea and Japan have also sent military aircraft to the area.  Commercial airlines have been using the area uninterruptedly since China’s warnings.  America, Japan, and South Korea have protested China’s statement claiming new airspace.

South Korea possesses the submerged rock called Ieodo, upon which rests a South Korean research station.  The rock is also claimed by China.  The South Korean air defense zone was established by the US during the Korean War.  The US, Japan and China have agreed that the expansion of the South Korean air zone is in line with international law.

Many commentators note the importance of the islands as oil and gas reserves.  In 2009 the US sanctioned Iranian oil and gas.  Japan had been importing oil from Iran until then (so had China, which bypassed US sanctions).  Some commentators point to the economic gains that come from military expansion as a motivation for increasing tensions in the area.

By Day Blakely Donaldson