Uneasy Cease-Fire In The South Sudan Capital Holding

The fighting that started in Juba, South Sudan’s capital city, has come to a halt after South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and his vice president, Riek Machar, called for a cease-fire, as reported by the NY Times. Civilians who had fled to the large Catholic Church Building in the town ventured out onto the lawn, uneasy about returning to their homes that had been shot up amidst the fighting. “We all ran here for our survival and people are still afraid to go outside,” said Ray Scot, 32. He and his four children have been taking refuge there since Saturday. A journalist, Victor Lugula, posted: “Good morning Juba, The mood is changing, I feel like going out to jog bare-chested, my ribs are aching from lying on the floor while taking cover.”

People take shelter near the All Saints Church in Juba, South Sudan following several days of deadly clashes. [AP Photo]

The people are uneasy about the cease-fire signed between the two leaders yesterday as they have spent the last two and a half years in a bloody civil war.

In accordance with a treaty signed last August, Machar returned to Juba in April to be reinstated as Kiir’s vice president. Their troops, however, have not been able to see eye to eye and continue to fight.

South Sudan, the world’s newest country, celebrated its fifth year of independence this weekend. What should have been a weekend of celebration turned into a violent battle that sent around 7,000 residents to already overcrowded United Nations protection sites. Thousands of others made their way to churches and schools, having to sleep on the floor with little food and water.

Yesterday, Ateny Wek Ateny, spokesman for the president, spoke to the crowd at the cathedral, telling them that both leaders had called for peace, and the roads would be safe.

The fighting flared up again on Thursda following a clash between the two sides at a checkpoint that ended in the death of five of Kiir’s soldiers. The next day, clashes broke out again between the two leaders’ protective units as they were meeting inside the presidential palace. By Saturday, the city was at war, with the opposing sides blaming one another for the attacks.

Machar said that there had been a “systematic and planned targeting” of his troops, and his residence on the border of the city had been attacked.

Ateny countered that his forces had “done their best in the fight against those who aggressed them — the forces of Machar — but now is a time for diplomacy.”

Riek Machar, South Sudan Vice President, left. and Salva Kiir, President during a press conference at Presidential palace in Juba, South Sudan [Samir Bo/AP Images]

The military leaders of both sides seem to be taking control of the conflict and fighting each other with no regard for the talks between the political leaders, said one of the president’s officials, who asked to remain anonymous.

“My reading is that most of the generals, especially the current SPLA Chief of Staff, has become so powerful and does not believe in the peace process,” said Biel Boutros Biel, the head of the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy.

After the fighting, two United Nations protective sites reported that civilians were caught in the crossfire. U.N. spokesperson Shantal Persaud said that about 139 people were being treated for injuries inside the camps, while eight had been killed. Two Chinese peacekeepers on patrol inside one of the camps were also killed. Whether they had been targeted intentionally is not known. The United Nations has been accused by the people of doing little to maintain peace in the country.

With both parties ignoring the U.N. Security Council’s call to stop the violence, the country is considering asking member states to prepare additional troops to deploy in the area. “There is a general realization and calculation by those generals against peace that the UN and the entire international community is reduced to issuing mere statements that have no impact on ground,” said Biel, “thus words without actions have encouraged impunity.”

[Jason Patinkin/AP Images]