South Sudan clashes enter second day | Africa | DW | 17.12.2013
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South Sudan clashes enter second day

Sporadic gunfire continued to ring out in South Sudan's capital, Juba, on Tuesday, with the military claiming to have "cleared out" remnants of a faction of soldiers accused of mounting a coup.

South Sudan's foreign minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the military had arrested five political leaders with suspected links to the attempted coup and that many more had yet to be traced.

The minister said former Vice President Riek Machar was at the top of the wanted list. Machar is now believed to be in hiding after he was identified by President Salva Kiir as the political leader favored by a faction of soldiers who tried to seize power earlier this week.

South sudan President Salva Kiir

Salva Kiir imposed an overnight curfew after the coup attempt on Monday

The attempted coup and heavy fighting in South Sudan's capital highlight the bitter fault lines and fragility of the newly-independent nation. It is rich in oil, but grossly impoverished. South Sudan is also awash with guns from the decades of war that led to its independence in July 2011.

Since that date there has been an unending stream of bad news. The country's politicians are said to have embezzled billions of dollars and a dispute with Khartoum over oil froze the country's one viable revenue stream.

This year several key leaders within the ruling SPLM founded an informal group in opposition to President Salva Kiir. Riek Machar, whom Kiir fired as vice-president in the summer, has announced that he intends to stand for president in 2015.

Analysts predict turbulent days ahead

Annette Weber from the Berlin-based think tank German Institute for International and Security Affairs said South Sudanese politics is becoming more diverse.

She believes that if the differences within the SPLM could be fought out in the political arena with the help of elections, rather than on the streets, then there could be a chance of turning South Sudan into a genuine multiparty democracy.

Politics in South Sudan is completely dominated by the SPLM, which occupies 90 percent of the seats in parliament and is closely intertwined with the army, police and civil authorities.

Dr. Annette Weber

South Sudan expert Annette Weber says elections could help diffuse tensions in the country

"If you consider how long this generation of politicians has spent waging war in Sudan, then they resort almost automatically to what they can do best, which is to solve conflicts militarily, however unfortunate this may be," Weber said.

In formal terms, it may be a democracy, but there are no political alternatives to the present government.The chances of any such alternative gaining a foothold in South Sudanese political life have now been dashed.

Kiir, whom human rights groups accuse of tightening his grip on power by muzzling the media, could now use this opportunity to dispense with all of his opponents, Weber said. Hence, his unusual decision to appear before the press in combat fatigues.

Marc Lavarne is a French political analyst also specialising in South Sudan. He said the sacking of Vice President Riek Machar in the summer was a "mini-revolution." The government was an alliance of former enemies, he explained.

"The biggest split in the SPLM occurred in 1991. Salva Kiir and Riek Machar were on opposing sides, there was a civil war and 100 thousand people lost their lives. In addition to political differences, there are also ethnic rivalries between the majority Dinka and the minority Nuer. It is these two groups that are the most influential in South Sudan."

Kiir comes from the Dinka, which also holds key positions in the army, while Machar comes from the Nuer, who form a key part of the foot soldiers in the army.

There are fears the latest clashes could increasingly take on an ethnic dimension. However, analysts think the fighting is likely to remain largely political and for that reason there needs to be dialogue to find a political solution.

UN offers shelter

As the clashes entered their second day, the United Nations announced that it was protecting 10,000 civilians at two bases in South Sudan's capital Juba, and urged the warring groups to refrain from ethnic violence.

"It is paramount that the current violence does not assume ethnic dimensions," the special representative of the UN Secretary General, Hilde Johnson, said in a statement.

"The mission is taking every possible step to ensure their safety while they are staying on UNMISS premises," the statement said in a reference to those who had sought shelter. . UNMISS is the English acronym for the United Nations mission in South Sudan.

UN compound in Juba, South Sudan welcomes fleeing residents.

The UNMISS opened its gates for thousands of refugees fleeing the clashes since Monday

"At a time when unity among South Sudanese is more needed than ever, I call on the leaders of this new country and all political factions and parties, as well as community leaders to refrain from any action that fuels ethnic tensions and exacerbates violence," the UN envoy said.

Johnson also emphasised the need for "discipline, command and control in the security forces", amid reports of violent house-to-house search operations underway in Juba.

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