By William Davison and Ahmed Feteha January 26, 2014
Rebels say fighting in South Sudan has intensified since a cease-fire that was intended to suspend a five-week conflict that has killed thousands of people and driven half a million from their homes.
Government forces allied with fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, or Jem, “wiped out everything” when they burned administrative buildings and nearby villages in Koch County in the Unity region today, Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesman for the insurgents, said in a phone interview from Nairobi, Kenya.
“It has flared up, it has actually intensified,” he said about the fighting since a truce came into effect on the evening of Jan. 24. “I think the government wanted to take advantage of the cessation of hostilities to encroach on our territory.”
Rebels also clashed with the military in the Upper Nile region, south of Malakal, where Koang alleged government troops killed civilians, including religious leaders. The government hadn’t received any reports of fighting after clashes yesterday and will investigate all reports of human-rights abuses by soldiers if it receives them, Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the military said today.
Jem, a rebel group operating in the Darfur region of Sudan, has no role in the conflict, Gibreel Adam Bilal, spokesman for the group, said by phone from London today.
Matiang near Bor in Jonglei state has been attacked five times in 48 hours, Aguer said by phone from the capital of Juba. A lack of control over “armed civilians” fighting the government and no monitoring of the agreement has led to rebel violations of the cease-fire, he said.
Both sides were responsible for “mass atrocities,” United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said on Jan. 17 after a four-day visit to the country.
The violence erupted in the world’s newest nation on Dec. 15 after President Salva Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar, whom he fired in July, of trying to stage a coup, a charge Machar denies. Clashes followed between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer group.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July, 2011, following a two-decade civil war with the north.
Both sides are to “redeploy and/or progressively withdraw” their own and allied forces from the “theater of operations,” according to the cease-fire accord.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the seven-nation regional group that helped mediate the agreement, will lead an unarmed, Juba-based monitoring and verification team that will oversee the cease-fire.
The military doesn’t know when effective oversight of the cease-fire will be in place or whether it “will happen”, Aguer said.
The United Nations in South Sudan is ready to “provide critical support” to the cease-fire monitoring process that is “essential for the implementation’ of the truce, Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said in an e-mailed statement on Jan 24.
Companies including China National Petroleum Corp. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) have evacuated employees from the country because of the violence. South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc (BP/) data.
Delegations negotiating the truce in Addis Ababa signed two agreements, one covering the cessation of hostilities, and the other on the issue of 11 detainees who have been held without charge since the fighting began. The arrested politicians include Pagan Amum, the former secretary-general of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and ex-Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor.
The rebels previously demanded that the detained politicians be freed before they would sign a cease-fire accord. Mediators will now work to have the detainees released to participate in the next phase of talks starting Feb. 7, the head of the rebel delegation, Taban Deng Gai, said in an interview.
The agreements make no specific reference to the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from South Sudan, one of the key rebel demands before the signing. The two sides agreed that ‘‘all forces should withdraw from theaters of operation, where there is physical fighting,” Information Minister Michael Makuei said.
Uganda’s military says it has about 1,600 soldiers in the country. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the forces were deployed to support South Sudanese government troops.