Mutual Mistrust Reopens Wounds of Civil War in South Sudan

On Thursday, Mr. Kiir issued a statement calling for Mr. Machar to return to the capital, and asked for a response within 48 hours. The statement, however, did not clarify what would happen if the vice president failed to do so.

“If Riek Machar comes back to Juba without attack forces, there will not be any other problem,” said the president’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny.


The bodies of unidentified people killed in fighting this month near a checkpoint in Juba, South Sudan.

Jok Solomun/Reuters

Mr. Machar has said he would return to Juba only when other nations in the region send troops here to serve as a buffer.

At an African Union summit meeting this week in Rwanda, representatives of Mr. Machar accused Mr. Kiir’s government of targeting opposition members, saying that the army had used helicopter gunships to destroy Mr. Machar’s residence during the clashes.

The African Union has called for the deployment of regional forces in South Sudan, with a stronger mandate than that of the approximately 12,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops already stationed here. But Mr. Kiir has said he would not allow additional international forces.

The peace plan that officially ended the war, which called on the former rivals to work together, appears to be unraveling.

Mr. Machar’s troops have been driven out of Juba, leaving Mr. Kiir’s forces in control of the capital. Since then, some opposition members — while serving as ministers in the transitional government — have faced intimidation and, in at least one case, assault.

“The transitional government cannot operate under the current situation of intimidation,” Mr. Machar said. “People are fearing for their lives, and the president cannot protect me. After all, it was started by me being targeted.”

With its leader in hiding, the opposition has become increasingly fractured. Some of those loyal to Mr. Machar have accused Mr. Kiir’s government of trying to unilaterally appoint the mining minister, Taban Deng Gai, who had represented Mr. Machar during last year’s peace negotiations, as the new head of the opposition.

“The idea of unity of command has always been a fictitious idea in the context of South Sudan; that applies to Riek Machar and to Salva Kiir as well,” said Harry Verhoeven, a South Sudan expert and professor of government at Georgetown University. “As we saw during the war, sometimes their generals take command on their own. That’s one of the big problems in general with the peace process.”

The situation is also tense outside Juba. Deadly skirmishes have continued to erupt in several states since the peace agreement was signed last year. In the northeast, where much of the civil war fighting occurred, the government is warning militias not to take up arms in response to the clashes in the capital.

Civilians should not get involved because “the conflict is between rival militaries, and there are political dimensions,” said Lul Ruai Koang, an army spokesman loyal to Mr. Kiir, warning that the government would launch airstrikes if civilians in the northeast began to mobilize.


President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, center, and first Vice President Riek Machar, left, after the formation of a transitional government in Juba, in April.

Albert Gonzalez Farran/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Many residents of Juba say the politics behind the recent bloodshed are perplexing and, ultimately, beside the point. They are simply frustrated with a government that, they say, has repeatedly failed to ensure peace and stability for its people.

While the streets of the capital are lively once more, tensions still remain. Thousands of people remain displaced by the latest round of fighting. The smell of dead bodies still wafts through some of the worst-hit areas. There has been an uptick in robberies; abandoned homes, as well as the World Food Program’s main warehouse, which stores more than 4,000 tons of food for emergency assistance, have been looted.

Like so many of the displaced people around her, Ms. Christian says she cannot return home. Much of her neighborhood has been destroyed. The charred hulks of government tanks sit along the road. What was once a row of small shops has been decimated, leaving behind heaps of corrugated steel.

Scattered among bullet casings are mementos of lost livelihoods: locks of copper-colored hair extensions, children’s schoolbooks, scraps of clothing.

But Ms. Christian is also afraid to go to the United Nations displacement camps, citing ethnic divisions that played a role in the civil war. Mr. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group, South Sudan’s largest, while Mr. Machar is a member of the Nuer, which is believed to be the second largest. Tens of thousands, mostly members of the Nuer, fled to the camps after being targeted by government forces in Juba when South Sudan’s civil war began in 2013.

Ms. Christian is Equatorian, a catchall term that encompasses several ethnic groups from the country’s southern regions. She says she fears mistreatment at the camps because she is not Nuer, and she doesn’t trust the United Nations peacekeepers to protect her.

She is also afraid of being exposed to cholera. A new outbreak of the disease, in the capital and across the country, has made an already desperate situation worse.

“The fighting has pushed people into more crowded areas, and they don’t have the access they usually have to food or clean water,” said Maria Guevara, medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, which has set up four clinics in Juba and is delivering water despite a number of recent staff evacuations in response to the clashes. “That will obviously contribute to a higher risk of spreading.”

Ms. Christian says she has no idea where to go, or how to stay safe. She also doesn’t know who to blame, because she has heard that both Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar have called for peace.

“But they don’t hear,” she added. “The soldiers — they don’t hear.”

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