Conflict Alert: Looming Military Offensives in South Sudan

BY: Casie Copeland, CRISIS GROUP.ORG, OCT/29/2014, SSN;

Warring parties in South Sudan’s civil war are preparing for major offensives as seasonal rains ease. Hardliners in both the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) are entrenching their positions, and think, as one opposition commander declared, “we will settle this with war”.

Renewed conflict is likely to be accompanied by widespread displacement, atrocity crimes and famine. Despite some progress, nine months of peace talks in Addis Ababa have been unable to stop the fighting.

With splintering interests, weak command and control and proliferating militias and self-defence forces, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional body mediating peace talks, must expand and strengthen its political links on the ground with senior commanders, armed groups and militarised communities not represented in Addis Ababa if a future agreement is to have meaning.

The coming violence will present new challenges for UNMISS as it prioritises protection of the nearly 100,000 civilians sheltering in their bases.

The soon-to-end rainy season was accompanied by reduced fighting, which allowed both sides to import arms and marshal forces that were hastily mobilised at the outset of war in December.

The government is emboldened, perceiving a diplomatic swing in its favour, following Kiir’s July visit to Washington and the August IGAD heads of state summit, giving it the space to launch a major offensive while stalling in Addis Ababa.

It has spent tens of millions of dollars on arms – largely from oil revenues – (rather than humanitarian assistance for its people); strengthened its military cooperation agreement with Uganda; undertaken mass recruitment, including of children; and mobilised police units in efforts to regain some of the strength it lost with the defections of troops and loss of weapons to the SPLA-IO.

However, major government victories are unlikely to end the rebellion. Furthermore, given the Ugandan army and Sudanese rebel deployments on its behalf, government advances will likely threaten Sudan’s national security interests, increase regional tensions and further inflame the conflict.

At the same time, state and opposition-supported, ethnically-based armed groups, such as the Nuer White Armies, have flourished and are only tenuously controlled by their sponsors.

Including the Ugandan army and Sudanese rebels backing the government, there are now at least two dozen armed entities operating in South Sudan.

The fragile coalitions threaten to further fracture, particularly in oil-producing Upper Nile State. Many of them, as well as some powerful generals from both the government’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA-IO, have expressed their intention to fight on, even if the political leaders sign an agreement.

Despite these obstacles, the IGAD mediation team has focused on trying to broker a deal between Kiir and Machar in Addis Ababa, ignoring other actors.

As Crisis Group warned in July, this lack of broad-scale engagement has led many commanders and armed groups to reject the political process. Most of these parties have their own interests.

IGAD should work with the African Union High-Level Panel on Sudan and South Sudan (AUHIP)(that is supporting the Sudanese dialogue process), led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, in order to secure the withdrawal of the Sudanese armed groups as called for in the January cessation of hostilities agreement and previous AU-mediated agreements.

Furthermore, despite many threats, IGAD has not taken punitive measures against the two main parties for violating cessation of hostility agreements, committing war crimes and otherwise undermining the peace-talks, and nor has it requested the African Union or UN Security Council to do so.

Armed actors increasingly believe there is little muscle behind the mediation, which is challenged by divisions within the regional body.

IGAD should continue the process with the two main parties, but given the deteriorating situation on the ground, it must expand its efforts and strengthen its links to other groups and militarised communities not represented in Addis Ababa, through increased political presence on the ground (not simply the Monitoring and Verification Teams observing the ill-implemented cessation of hostility agreements).

Its mediation should be supplemented by separate but linked negotiation tracks on issues not being comprehensively discussed in Ethiopia, particularly the Tanzanian-led SPLM party talks; a re-activated Political Parties Forum; engagement with armed groups; and processes to address violent communal conflict.

Promising internal SPLM party talks have begun, sponsored by Tanzania’s ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM; in English Party of the Revolution), however they have not yet changed the calculus for war on the ground.

The Political Parties Forum should be re-activated and the leader of the largest opposition party, the SPLM-Democratic Change, should be permitted to travel from South Sudan to re-join the talks.

Much of the dialogue and work with community representatives, armed groups and militarised communities should take place in South Sudan, not in Addis Ababa.

China and the U.S. should play a more active, neutral, consistent and transparent role in ameliorating the regional divisions to help break the impasse.

The two should take a harder line with their allies within the region who continue to enable the war and are party to cessations of hostilities violations.

The limited U.S. and EU individual sanctions, aimed at punishing a few commanders on both sides that are seen to have broken the cessation of hostilities, have thus far had little impact on the combatants’ calculations and individual IGAD, AU or UNSC sanctions are similarly unlikely to turn the tide unless used as leverage to further political negotiations.

In light of the anticipated intensification of fighting, UNMISS’ mandate, due to be renewed on 30 November, should continue to focus on civilian protection.

This is particularly true of protection of civilians already sheltering inside UNMISS and, where possible, it should extend protection beyond bases.

Hosting nearly 100,000 civilians inside of its bases for an extended period is far from ideal, however the mission must continue to provide protection until conditions allow for their safe and voluntary exit from the bases.

Civilians should not be moved into less protected UN humanitarian sites or other specially-designated sites where protection standards will not be the same as within a peacekeeping base.

Supporting further ethnic divisions by moving people to their “ancestral” lands where famine and conflict are likely in the coming months is also not a viable option.

Many recommendations Crisis Group made in its December 2013, Open Letter to the UN Secretary-General, its April report, A Civil War by Any Other Name, and July conflict alert, Halting South Sudan’s Civil War, remain relevant to averting further escalation, improving the peace process and ensuring UNMISS has an appropriate mandate and posture.

To stop further intensification of the war, IGAD should take the following steps:-

* increase its political presence on the ground in South Sudan, with a specific focus on engagement with commanders and armed groups;

* start dialogue with all armed groups and militarised communities;

* open four separate negotiation tracks, both in Addis and South Sudan, sequenced and pursued so as to contribute to the broader national political dialogue and focused on:
-1) the SPLM (supported by Tanzania’s CCM party);
-2) a re-activated Political Parties Forum;
-3) armed groups; and
-4) communal conflict; and

* work with the African Union High-Level Panel on Sudan and South Sudan (AUHIP) to secure the withdrawal of the Sudanese armed groups as called for in the January cessation of hostilities agreement and as well as previous AU-mediated agreements between Sudan and South Sudan.

As the conflict threatens to intensify once again, the United Nations Security Council should take the following actions:-

# institute an arms embargo for South Sudan, which must then be carefully monitored to prevent further escalation;

# identify the government’s and opposition’s sources of weapons and how they are paying for them; and increase leverage over the parties;

# establish a Contact Group that includes IGAD, the AU, UN, Troika (U.S., UK, Norway), EU, China and Tanzania to facilitate coordination and discussion on the way forward; and

# maintain UNMISS’ core protection of civilians mandate, including allowing civilians to shelter within UNMISS bases until they are able to make a safe and voluntary exit.

Greater coordination between regional and international actors is urgently needed to ensure the high-level peace talks better reflect the growing number and power of increasingly autonomous armed groups in South Sudan as well as the regional dynamics behind the war.

A clear strategy for engagement with armed groups and facility for linking local negotiations with a wider national process will help prevent the civil war deepening and spreading further in South Sudan and the region.

Casie Copeland


  1. galdino. sebit says:

    Conflict Alert:- This war is encroaching slowly to engulf the entire country, if not brought to a speedy end within this year. The IGAD, AU, UNSC and Strike nations, will indeed find difficulties to negotiate an end to the conflict, once too many interests are invested in the conflict. Ordinary civilians are turning against each other, a symptomatic behavior of frustration,within the UN camps. It is a cancerous hatred, that has lost its roots. Will this country survive, after a well crafted legacy of its liberation struggle of over five decades? Why, why, why? South Sudanese do not deserve an independence of self-destruction. Silence is not an option. There is a saying, “Love your neighbour,………………………..”

    • info@southsudannation says:


  2. Casie Copeland,

    Everything you discussed in your article does not make any sense. In stead jumping left and right trying to be neutral in your discussion, your article should state something like addressing the root cause of conflict and immediate withdrawal of Ugandan military and Sudanese rebels from South Sudan. Second, your article should call for the fairness of international community and IGAD while pressuring Kiir not to advance.

    The mediation team and international communities are not fair in their mediation because they are giving pressure to the rebels only but not the government which started the war. Every time the rebels captured a town from government, the IGAD, AU, US would condemn the rebels but not condemning the government which instigated the conflict and keep advancing to the rebels territories.

    The IGAD, AU, US are there to help Kiir but not to solve problem and bring peace. Now, the whole world already know that there was no “COUP” in December 15, 2013. Kiir made it up and why they do not want to hold kiir accountable ? I do not know why IGAD, AU, and US are pressuring the victim only to accept peace while they are fighting for selves defend, instead of pressuring the government which instigated the war and has more power over the rebels?.

  3. AGUMUT says:

    South Sudan will never ever unite with North for ever,North Sudan are our BROTHERS and Neighbours.

  4. Chief Abiko! says:


    South will be reunited in the Sudanese mainstream in the country.Separation from Sudan,has nothing to do with Arabs in north.Northerners are living in the South!!!!!

    • AGUMUT says:

      I know North Merchants are living in the South for trading, i had live in WAU before. Northerners TRADERS are now the one who benefit from corrupts government officials.Are you awared that North has change a lot because its only wealth and that is all.Nobody talk to you unless you got money,Northerners themselves tell us.

  5. Choromke Jas says:

    The engine for the war is the justified anger among the South Sudanese against president Kiir for superintending the killing of innocent civilians in Juba. The ONLY solution is for the world to ask Kiir and Riak Machar to take time off from active politics and let the country recuperate. The presence of Kiir in government is a constant irritant that will not allow for end of hostilities. The world powers know what to do: Riek has already accepted to go fallow; they should pressure Kiir to go to into exile.

    • Elhag Paul says:

      You are absolutely correct. The world, especially the Troika need to acknowledge that Kiir is the alleged criminal here. The ethnic cleansing happened and is happening on daily basis with disappearance of people under the watch and administration of Kiir. Kiir should not be arguing for remaining in power. He should be in The Hague now and as you rightly put it, the country would be “recuperate(inv)” now. Kiir with his Dinkocrats must go. They are criminals and have no business governing South Sudan. Although Riek has his own downside he can not be faulted re current situatin because truly he is innocent. The man escaped through the thick of his skin. The only problem with Riek is that he is very shortsighted and continuously commits unnecessary blunders.

    • upiu says:

      C. jas,
      i am just wondering as to when/where did Riek ‘accept to go fallow’? in one of his recent interviews, he was asked exactly that question – if he would accept if both Kiir and him were to cede power and leave political life for the sake of peace in s. Sudan. his answer was a flat No claiming that people wanted him instead.
      i continue to maintain that relative peace will only return to S.Sudan if Kiir and Riek quit their pursuit of power and leave s. sudanese alone.
      regardless, i’m glad that you have halted your violent pursuit of regime change and you are not talking about “Aru cut” anymore, that there is no military victory in sight for the rebellion.

  6. galdino. sebit says:

    The cycle of violence that begets violence:-Revenge has become the order of living in the past,to settle grudges among tribes, clans and families, because we believe in the law of the jungle. Government does not enforce law and order that already exist in the books. Soon after independence, those chapters of the liberation struggle, related to atrocities committed during the war of liberation, were kept wide open.
    As a result, there were references being made, of 1991 atrocities committed during that time, despite the fact that the late leader of vision, Dr.John Garang, closed those chapters, in order to allow the Republic of South Sudan move forward.
    Now that the country is rapidly moving backwards, since Dec.15th.2013, the people of South Sudan will never enjoy the fruits of their hard-won independence, unless we commit our selves to forgiveness. It is a tragedy of immense proportion ever self-inflicted to a new nation. Let every citizen rise up and understand that peace and reconciliation among us can come only from within,not from IGAD, AU, UN or any Western POWERS.

  7. Chief Abiko! says:


    The northern merchants in the South,they are soldiers!They are there to inform Khartoum government in the South matters! Southerners,should watch out right now!

  8. john jackson says:

    Now who knows the solution to our problems? Our problems are caused by us and we by all means are the only solution to these problems. I know some of you look to the region and the western world to solve our problems. When you look to past, you find that in most cases southerns are always the main causers to their problems. The problem is that when guys do not stop looking at each other as probably an alien or something like that accompany with selfish tribal attitudes and hate then trust me Christ will find fighting each other. I know some of you on this website just write b’se you want to write not b’se you have something to write.

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