There is renewed tension in South Sudan. South Sudan’s vice president is urging regional mediators to intervene to protect the country’s fragile peace deal, warning of a return to war amid alleged attacks by government troops on his forces.
Riek Machar accused President Salva Kiir of violating a 2018 truce in a letter to the regional mediator, the 8-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD.
“The security situation in South Sudan has been deteriorating for the last few months,” Machar said in the letter. “Therefore, we request, as a matter of urgency, the intervention of IGAD and other international partners to prevail on President Salva Kiir not to take this country back to war.”
There was heavy military deployment in the capital, Juba, Monday near the international airport and the presidential palace, highlighting growing tensions.
President Salva Kiir admitted on Monday the deployment of security forces in the area where his first deputy is residing citing security concerns.
Kiir on Friday issued a decree in which he offered five command positions in the army and the police to his rivals, a unilateral decision opposed by Machar.
“There is no issue of insecurity on the streets in Juba. What is being done is a normal thing that happens in any country,” said the president at a press conference held at the presidential palace on Monday.
Salva Kiir said the deployment is in response to heightened criminal activities in the area. “In Juba here, there are people, criminals who have filtrated and are living with civilians. And these people can go and shoot near the house, for example, if they go to the house of Riek Machar and they fire there, we will see it is Riek who has started to attack people. So, the presence of army and security forces in the streets of Juba does not show there is security. It is not”, said Kiir.
The armed opposition group (SPLM/A-IO) led by First Vice President Riek Machar accused South Sudan’s army of attacking its positions in various locations of Upper Nile state, contrary to the ceasefire agreement.
President Kiir said there are sticky issues impeding the implementation of the 2018 revitalized peace agreement adding that such issues could still be resolved through dialogue.
“Nothing is difficult for a human being. There is nothing that cannot be resolved. If there are obstacles on the way, they can still be resolved if there is a dialogue,” said Kiir.
The president convened a press conference on Monday after his First Vice President Riek Machar said his house had been surrounded by security forces, putting at risk his personal safety and people within the residential area in which he lives.
In his statement, Machar called on the regional, international community, and the United Nations Security Council to take note of the situation.
It was reported that Machar made contact with foreign missions and embassies the whole day.
The U.S., the U.K. and Norway — the troika supporting South Sudan’s peace deal — said last week they were concerned that the new outbreak of fighting threatens to undermine the government’s unity.
A group of United Nations experts warned in a report last year that “the stability of South Sudan has remained at risk” as a result of missed deadlines and political gridlock on key issues in the unity government’s agreement.
The pressure from foreign diplomats caused the President to call an impromptu press conference to defuse tensions in Juba.
The huge deployment of security forces has restricted movement in the streets of Juba. During the evening people remain indoors. Also, normal business activities have been scaled-down.
With growing tensions, Riek Machar says he has asked for help from East African countries gathered in the Igad bloc and in particular from Sudan.
Machar, the embattled vice president says he wants Sudanese head of state and top General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to come to his aid against his President Salva Kiir.
Khartoum was indeed one of the guarantors of the South Sudanese peace agreement, signed in 2018 after five years of civil war.
Tens of thousands of people were killed in the civil war which ended with a 2018 peace agreement that brought Kiir and Machar together in a government of national unity.
But challenges remain, including the government’s failure to implement promised reforms including completing the unification of the army command.