Africa
1:47 pm
Wed December 25, 2013

Clashes Continue In South Sudan Despite Calls For Cease-Fire

Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 7:41 am

It was a somber Christmas day in South Sudan. Despite an appeal for a Christmas cease-fire from the African Union, government soldiers and rebels clashed in an oil-rich part of the country.

At a church in the capital of Juba, President Salva Kiir called for peace and unity. Even the leader's choice of clothing — traditional robes instead of army fatigues — seemed to signal that he wants to move past the violence.

On Dec. 16, the day after South Sudan erupted in massive gun battles, Kiir ditched his trademark black cowboy hat and suit and appeared on television wearing army fatigues. He vowed retribution against his former Vice President Riek Machar, whom he claimed was the mastermind of a failed coup.

On Wednesday, in a speech at his Catholic church after Christmas services, President Kiir wore traditional African flowing robes and urged peace and reconciliation. But he still seemed ever the bush commander he was for most of his career, trying to boost the morale of his troops.

"What I want to tell you is that don't despair," Kiir said. "It will be the last [time] in the history of our young nation that such things happen."

Kiir seemed relaxed, even making a joke when the power went out. He could afford to be magnanimous to his rivals; his army had just announced it had retaken the main rebel stronghold in the city of Bor, some 60 miles north of the capital.

The leader has told U.S. Special Envoy Donald Booth that he is willing to hold unconditional talks with Machar. The president did not mention his own tribe, the Dinka. Nor did he mention Machar's tribe, the Nuer.

But he said any soldiers killing people in the streets weren't acting in his name.

"Anybody that goes to the residential areas to kill people or to loot the property of others, hoping he's doing it to support me, must know that that person is not supporting me. In a sense, he is destroying me," he said.

Outside the church, people worried about what Kiir did not say. He did not say that he had arrested any of the soldiers who unleashed a week of terror on Nuer civilians in Juba, including murder, rape, torture and other abuses documented by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. Similar abuses were said to be committed by Nuer soldiers against Dinka in other parts of the country.

South Sudan has struggled to contain ethnic tension since its independence from its northern neighbor, Sudan, in 2011. The past week of violence has left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced, afraid to go back to their homes for fear of ethnic retribution.

The violence stemmed from a power struggle between Kiir and Machar, two war heroes who made their names fighting their mutual enemy, Sudan, now fighting each other in what has been described as politics gone wild.

"They came as liberators. They came and took over power. But those who called themselves liberators are fighting themselves," says Jok Justin Ayoc, the leader of a political party opposed to the ruling party that both Machar and Kiir are fighting to control.

"If you are in power for eight years and cannot agree between yourselves, that is an organization which is there to loot a country," Ayoc says.

A delegation from the African Union is due in Juba on Thursday to foster negotiations between Kiir and Machar. The U.N. voted on Tuesday night to send thousands more peacekeepers into the country ahead of party elections next year.

Lasulba Memo, host of an evening radio show on the local Eye Radio, says people in South Sudan — especially the ethnically mixed capital — are wary. More than 10,000 people have taken shelter in the U.N. compound, afraid to return home.

"You want to look for people you can trust," Memo says. "So that's why there is now a sense of knowing who your neighbor is."

Memo says they're losing trust in the party leaders who won their freedom but are now failing to protect their safety.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Soldiers and rebels continued fighting in an oil-rich part of South Sudan today. This, despite an appeal from the African Union for a Christmas Day ceasefire. The country has been struggling to contain ethnic tensions since its independence from Sudan in 2011. Recent violence has left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced and many are afraid to go back to their homes for fear of ethnic retribution.

NPR's Gregory Warner reports from a church in the capital, Juba, where the country's president called for peace and unity.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: On the Monday before last, the day after the capital of South Sudan erupted in massive gun battles, President Salva Kiir ditched his trademark black cowboy hat and suit and appeared on national television wearing army fatigues, vowing retribution against his former vice president, Riek Machar, who he claimed was the mastermind of a failed coup.

Today, in a speech at his Catholic church after Christmas services, President Kiir changed costume again, wearing traditional African flowing robes and urging peace and reconciliation. But he still seemed ever the bush commander that he was for most of his career, trying to boost the morale of his troops.

SALVA KIIR: What I want to tell you is that don't despair. It will be the last in the history of our young nation, that such things will not happen again.

(APPLAUSE)

WARNER: Kiir seemed relaxed, even making a joke when the power went out. He could afford to be magnanimous with his rivals - his army had just announced it had retaken the main rebel stronghold in the city of Bor, some 60 miles north of the capital. He's told U.S. Special Envoy Donald Booth he's willing to hold unconditional talks with rival, Riek Machar. The president did not mention his own tribe, the Dinka, nor Machar's tribe, the Nuer. But he said that any soldiers killing people in the streets weren't acting in his name.

KIIR: Anybody that goes to the residential areas to kill people or to loot the property of others hoping that he's doing it to support me must know that that person is not supporting me. In a sense, you are destroying me.

WARNER: Outside the church, people worried about what President Kiir did not say. He did not say that he had arrested any of the soldiers who unleashed a week of terror on Nuer civilians in Juba, including murder, rape, torture, and other abuses documented by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. Similar abuses were said to be committed by Nuer soldiers against Dinka in other parts of the country.

The violence stemmed from a power struggle between President Kiir and Riek Machar, two war heroes who made their names fighting their mutual enemy, Sudan, now fighting each other in what has been described as politics gone wild.

JOK AUSTIN AYOC: They came as liberators and they came and took over power. But those who came and called themselves liberators are now the ones fighting themselves.

WARNER: Jok Justin Ayoc is the leader of a political party opposed to the ruling party that both Riek Machar and Salva Kiir are fighting to control.

AYOC: If you are in power for eight years and you cannot agree between yourselves, that is an organization which I say is there to loot the country.

WARNER: A delegation from the African Union is due in Juba tomorrow to foster negotiations between Kiir and Machar. The U.N. voted last night to send thousands more peacekeepers into the country ahead of party elections next year.

Lasulba Memo hosts an evening radio show on the local Eye Radio. He said people in South Sudan, especially in the ethnically mixed capital, are wary. More than 10,000 people have taken shelter in the U.N. compound, afraid to return home.

LASULBA MEMO: You want to look for people you can trust. So that's why there is now essential knowing who your neighbor is.

WARNER: He says they're losing trust in the party leaders who won their freedom but are now failing to protect their safety.

Gregory Warner, NPR, Juba. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.