What started as a tribal conflict in this Central African country is beginning to have the earmarks of a full-fledged civil war, according to a highly placed source present at the outbreak of the fighting.
On Dec. 16, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir ordered the arrest of Vice President Riek Machar, accusing him and other military officials of attacking the military barracks in Juba with the intent of fomenting a coup.
According to the source, after the vice president’s firing, President Kiir ordered the troops loyal to the vice president to disarm. When word of the orders reached the barracks, soldiers loyal to the vice president resisted the order and fighting broke out. The source, quartered less than 500 meters from the barracks, had a stream of civilians enter into his office when the gunfire started.
After the president’s arrest order was issued, Machar, in turn, demanded the president resign.
The conflict quickly saw the emergence of a new independent militia loyal to the vice president and there are reports that they have seized at least part of the nation’s capital of Juba.
Communications into and out of South Sudan have been hampered, and reports on the violence are sporadic.
WND’s source reports that while this seems to be a substantial threat to the national government, the conflict is being conducted by a relatively small group.
South Sudan is made up of 69 separate tribal groups and only two of the groups are involved in attacking the Kiir government. The rebels are untrained and seem to have no understanding of strategy. According to our source, as the violence spread, the rebels didn’t seem to know whom they are fighting or what they are fighting for.
The most recent report states the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, the group loyal to the former South Sudan’s vice president, announced they have taken control of the Unity state – an area in north-central South Sudan that is one of 10 states that comprise South Sudan.
South Sudan’s army has lost control over the region after the leader of government forces in the area, Commander James Koang, defected and declared himself military governor of the state.
Reports also indicate the acting governor and deputy governor fled from the city ahead of Koang’s army.
While Koang did not publicly claim any allegiance to former Vice President Machar or his rebels, Machar claims the military commander has weighed in on the side of the rebel forces.
Reports are that Machar is currently hiding out in Unity, presumably under the auspices of the new government.
The oil fields In Unity are estimated to hold 150 million barrels of oil reserves, and are an economic centerpiece for the country. This region has been claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, mainly because of these reserves.
Rebel forces also seem to be in control of the Jonglei state, an area in east central Sudan which is the largest and most populous state in the country with Bor as its capital.
The United States may also be drawn into the fighting since three U.S. military aircraft attempting to rescue American citizens trapped in South Sudan came under fire on Saturday. Four U.S. soldiers were wounded as a result of the action.
Three CV-22 Osprey transports were fired upon as they approached the city of Bor, forcing the planes to turn around. It is unclear whether it was government or rebel troops firing on the aircraft.
Throughout the fighting, those who are suffering the worst are civilians. As the conflict continues, thousands are fleeing the national capital of Juba as well as the states bearing the bulk of the fighting. These people are in desperate need of food, water and medicine, but relief efforts are hampered by the fighting.