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