South Sudan Troops Threaten to Attack Rebel Stronghold as "White Army" Marches Forward
Dashing hopes for an end to the nearly two-week crisis in which at least 1,000 people have died, South Sudan troops threatened to attack the rebel forces' main stronghold Saturday if a ceasefire was rejected. At the same time, an estimated 25,000 youths from the rebel Nuer tribe began to march towards the contested state capital, raising the fears of a full-blown civil war.
On Friday, leaders from across East Africa had announced that the South Sudanese government had agreed to a "cessation of hostilities," ending its crackdown against former Vice President Riek Machar's forces. But the tentative ceasefire was quickly rejected, with Machar telling the BBC that any ceasefire needed to be negotiated by delegations from both sides. By Saturday morning, government forces had forced rebels out of the town of Mayom, and, according to the South Sudan Information Minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, troops were at the ready to move onto the last state capital, Bentiu, held by Machar's forces. "We will flush [Machar] out of Bentiu if he doesn't accept the cessation of hostilities," Lueth told Reuters. According to Lueth, roughly 25,000 youths from Machar's Lou Nuer tribe — who make up a militia known as the "White Army" — also began marching towards another state capital, Bor, on Saturday. "He [Machar] has decided to mobilize the youth in the name of his tribe," Lueth said.The moves from both sides makes the possibility of an end to the escalating crisis seem increasingly unlikely. Since mid-December, President Salva Kiir's government and its military— made up primarily of the Dinka ethnic group — have been fighting the Nuer-dominated rebels, who are allied with Former Vice President Riek Machar. Although it remains unclear who fired the first shot — with the government accusing Machar of attempting a coup, and Machar denying it — clashes erupted on December 15 between a pro-Machar group and security forces, quickly triggering a nation-wide ripple of violence.The crisis has led to reports of mass graves and other atrocities committed along ethnic lines, forcing tens of thousands of South Sudanese residents into U.N. refugee camps and neighboring Sudan, with attempts at mediation coming from all over the international community. Secretary of State John Kerry has called on the South Sudan government to enter peace talks with Machar, and has sent his special envoy in to South Sudan. The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, will go to the South Sudanese capital on Sunday for talks with Kiir, and even Egypt has sent in aid.
"Here is a young country that is only two years independent and the blood is flowing," the European Union's Special Representative to the Horn of Africa told Reuters. "Both sides need to stop fiddling around. There is the danger of allowing the situation to remain protracted over petty political haggling at a time when the country is aflame, when passions have been aroused so lethally, which is nothing more than an act of utter irresponsibility in my view."
South Sudan, the world's newest nation, gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011.