South Sudanese Civil War

South Sudanese Civil War
Part of the ethnic violence in South Sudan[1][2]

Military situation in South Sudan updated as of 1 April 2016
  Under control of the Government of South Sudan
  Under control of the Government of Sudan
(For a more detailed map of the current military situation, see here.)
Date15 December 2013[3] – present
(2 years, 11 months, 3 weeks and 5 days)
LocationSouth Sudan
Status Peace agreement reached between the government and SPLM-IO failed to halt fighting;[3][4][5] Peace agreement reached between the government and the SSDM/A - Cobra Faction;[6] Local insurgencies continue[7][8][9]

South Sudan SPLM government

Supported by:

United Nations UNMISS[11]

South Sudan SPLM-IO[12]

Nuer White Army[14]
South Sudan Democratic Movement

South Sudan Agwelek forces (Uliny loyalists)[18][19]
South Sudan National Army[13][20]

South Sudan Wau State insurgents[21]
Islamic Movement for Liberation of Raja[8]
Commanders and leaders
South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit
(President of South Sudan)
South Sudan Paul Malong Awan
South Sudan Kuol Manyang Juuk
South Sudan James Hoth Mai (until 2014; dismissed)[22]
Uganda Yoweri Museveni
Uganda Katumba Wamala
United Nations Ellen Margrethe Løj
United Nations Hilde Frafjord Johnson (until 2014)
South Sudan Riek Machar[23][24]
(Leader of the SPLM-IO)
South Sudan Rebecca Garang
South Sudan Pagan Amum
South Sudan Paulino Zangil[lower-alpha 2] (2013-2016)
Khalid Botrous[17] (2016-present)
South Sudan John Uliny[18][19]
Ali Tamim Fartak[8]
SPLM: 150,000[25] UNMISS: 12,523[11][26] SPLM-IO: At least 10,000 defectors[27][28][29]
Nuer White Army: 25,000[14][30][31]
Casualties and losses
10,659 killed, 9,921 wounded (January – October 2014)[32] 5 UNMISS peacekeepers,[33][34] Unknown
50,000[35]–300,000[36] killed in total
1,860,000+ civilians displaced[26][37][38] 21 Ugandan soldiers KIA.[39] Four Kenyan civilians killed.[40]

The South Sudanese Civil War is a conflict in South Sudan between forces of the government and opposition forces.

In December 2013, a political power struggle broke out between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.[41] The president accused Mr. Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d'état.[42] Machar denied trying to start a coup and fled, calling for Kiir to resign.[43] Fighting broke out between the SPLM and the SPLM – in opposition, igniting the civil war. Ugandan troops were deployed to fight alongside South Sudanese government forces against the rebels.[44] The United Nations has peacekeepers in the country as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In January 2014 the first ceasefire agreement was reached. Fighting still continued and would be followed by several more ceasefire agreements. Negotiations were mediated by "IGAD +" (which includes the eight regional nations called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development as well as the African Union, United Nations, China, the EU, USA, UK and Norway). A peace agreement known as the "Compromise Peace Agreement" was signed in Ethiopia under threat of United Nations sanctions for both sides in August 2015.[45] Machar returned to Juba in 2016 and was appointed vice president.[46] Following a second breakout of fighting within Juba, Machar fled again and went to exile in the Sudan.[47]

Up to 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war, including notable atrocities such as the 2014 Bentiu massacre.[36][48] Although both men have supporters from across South Sudan's ethnic divides, subsequent fighting has had ethnic undertones. Mr. Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group has been accused of attacking other ethnic groups and Mr. Machar’s Nuer ethnic group has been accused of attacking the Dinka.[49] About 3 million people have been displaced in a country of 12 million, with about 2 million internally displaced and about 1 million having fled to neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.[50]


A South Sudanese man holding a HK G3

Previous rebellions

In 2010, after a disputed election, George Athor led the South Sudan Democratic Movement in rebellion against the government. The same year, a faction of the South Sudan Democratic Movement, called the Cobra Faction, led by David Yau Yau rebelled against the government they accused of being prejudiced against the Murle. His faction signed a cease-fire with the government in 2011 and his militia was reintegrated into the army but he then defected again in 2012. After the army's notorious 2010 disarmament campaign with widespread abuses of the Shilluk people, who were alleging persecution by the ruling Dinka, John Uliny from the Shilluk people began a rebellion, leading the Upper Nile faction of the South Sudan Democratic Movement. Gabriel Tang who led a militia allied to Khartoum during the Second Sudanese Civil War, clashed regularly with the SPLA until 2011 when his soldiers were reintegrated into the national army. In 2011, Peter Gadet lead a rebellion with the South Sudan Liberation Army but was reintegrated into the army the same year. In a strategy of co-option known as "big tent", the government often buys off community militia and pardons its leaders.[51] Others call the use of rebellion to receive public office as "bad culture".[52]

President consolidates power

After rumors about a planned coup surfaced in Juba in late 2012, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir began reorganizing the senior leadership of his government, party and military in an unprecedented scale.[53] In January 2013 Kiir replaced the inspector general of the national police service with a lieutenant from the army, and dismissed six deputy chiefs of staff and 29 major generals in the army.[53] In February 2013 Kiir retired an additional 117 army generals[54] but this was viewed as troublesome in regards to a power grab by others.[55] Kiir had also suggested that his rivals were trying to revive the rifts that had provoked infighting in the 1990s.[56]

In July 2013, Kiir dismissed Vice President Riek Machar, one-time leader of the Nasir revolt, along with his entire cabinet. Kiir suspended the SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum Okech and forbade him from leaving Juba or speaking to the media.[57] The decrees elicited fears of political unrest, with Machar claiming that Kiir's move was a step towards dictatorship and announcing that he would challenge Kiir in the 2015 presidential election.[58][59] He said that if the country is to be united, it cannot tolerate "one man's rule."[60]

Kiir disbanded all of the top-level organs of the SPLM party, including the Political Bureau, the National Convention and the National Liberation Council in November 2013. He cited their failed performance and the expiration of their term limits.[61]

Although Machar and Kiir are both members of the SPLM, they stem from different tribes with a history of conflict. Kiir is an ethnic Dinka, while Machar is an ethnic Nuer.[60] Some observers reject ethno-tribal explanations of the conflict as overly simplified.[62]

Ethnic tension

In 2010, Dennis Blair, then United States Director of National Intelligence, issued a warning that "over the next five years,...a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in southern Sudan."[63][64] In 2011, there was fighting between the Murle and the Lou Nuer, mostly over raiding cattle and abducting children to raise as their own. The Nuer White Army released a statement stating its intention to "wipe out the entire Murle tribe on the face of the earth as the only solution to guarantee long-term security of Nuer’s cattle".[65] Notably, in the Pibor massacre, an estimated 900[66] to 3000[67] people were killed in Pibor.

Course of the conflict

Initial mutiny

It began on the evening of Sunday, 15 December 2013, at the meeting of the National Liberation Council at Nyakuron, when opposition leaders Dr. Riek Machar, Pagan Amum and Rebecca Nyandeng voted to boycott the meeting.[1]

The South Sudanese Sudan Tribune reported clashes breaking out in the Munuki neighbourhood[68] late on 14 December in South Sudan's capital, Juba, between members of the presidential guard.[60] Kiir also claimed that the fighting began when unidentified uniformed personnel started shooting at a meeting of the SPLM.[55] Former Minister of Higher Education Peter Adwok said that on the evening 15 December after the meeting of the National Liberation Council had failed, Kiir told Major General Marial Ciennoung to disarm his soldiers of the "Tiger Battalion," which he did. Adwok then controversially claims that the officer in charge of the weapons stores, opened them and rearmed only the Dinka soldiers. A Nuer soldier passing by questioned this and a fistfight then ensued between the two and attracted the attention of the "commander and his deputy to the scene." Unable to calm the situation, more soldiers got involved and raided the stores. It culminated in the Nuer soldiers taking control of the military headquarters. The next morning, he says that Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) reinforcements arrived and dislodged the mutineers. He then explained standard procedure:

Military doctrine dictates that once a contingent of mutinous troops have been dislodged, appeal is made for their surrender and then disarmed. Those who remained loyal (to the president) are also disarmed to prevent bad blood. The loyal troops of Tiger, hailing mainly from Warrap and Aweil, have not been disarmed. In fact, they are the ones rampaging Juba, looting and shooting to kill any Nuer in the residential neighbourhoods."

Adwok was then placed on a list of wanted politicians, to which he said "this may be my last contribution, because, as I said, I'm waiting for the police in order to join my colleagues in detention."[69] On Christmas Day, five days after his controversial publication, Adwok was arrested and held for two days. He was later detained at the Juba airport when attempting to leave the country. His passport was also confiscated.[70]

The military headquarters near Juba University was then attacked with fighting continuing throughout the night.[58] The next day heavy gunfire and mortar fire were reported, and [60] UNMISS announced that hundreds of civilians sought refuge inside its facilities[58] Aguer said that some military installations had been attacked but that "the army is in full control of Juba," that the tense situation was unlikely to deteriorate, and an investigation was under way.[60] Several people were also injured during the fighting.[71] Juba International Airport was closed indefinitely;[72] Kenyan airlines Fly540 and Kenya Airways indefinitely suspended flights to Juba after the airport closed.[73] A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed[71] until further notice. State-owned SSTV went off-air for several hours. When it returned to broadcasting, it aired a message by President Salva Kiir.[71] The dissident group was said to include Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) founder John Garang's widow, Rebecca Garang.[72]

Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said that soldiers at the army base attempted to raid a weapons store but were repulsed. He added that unnamed politicians had also been arrested, but could not confirm if Machar was one of them. He also said that those that were a part of the coup were "disgruntled" soldiers and politicians led by Machar.[58] At least ten people were confirmed to have been detained, including former Finance Minister Kosti Manibe. Five others were sought for questioning, including Machar and Pagan Amum. Information Minister Micheal Makuei Leuth claimed that Machar had left Juba with some soldiers and stolen cattle.[74] Of those arrested, seven were confirmed as former ministers. Other arrests included those of Kiir's critics.[57] Amum then said on 15 December that "I am fine, that's all I can say," while Machar announced through his spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, that he had not been arrested and was doing well.[57] However, it was later reported that Amum was being held by the state security apparatus.[75]

President Salva Kiir spoke on national television on 16 December, having abandoned his signature suit and cowboy hat for military fatigues, and said, while surrounded by government officials, that the coup had been foiled and that it was orchestrated by a group of soldiers allied with the former vice president.[55] Kiir said that the government was then "in full control of the military situation"[58] and that those "criminals" responsible for the attack would be brought to justice.[71] On 21 December, the government announced on Twitter its unconditional readiness to hold peace talks with any rebel group, including Machar [76] Kiir spoke in a Christmas message that "innocent people have been wantonly killed. There are now people who are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation...It will only lead to one thing and that is to turn this new nation into chaos."[77] Chief Whip and MP from the large state of Eastern Equatoria, Tulio Odongi Ayahu, announced his support for Kiir.[78] The SPLM-affiliated youth group condemned the attempted overthrow of Kiir.[79]

Machar spoke for the first time since the crisis began on 18 December in which he said he was not aware of any coup attempt, but instead blamed Kiir for fabricating such allegations of a coup in order to settle political scores and target political opponents. He accused Kiir of inciting ethnic tensions to achieve his ends. He also said the violence was started by the presidential guard, which was founded by Kiir and told to report directly to him instead of the military.[56] He refused to deny or acknowledge support for Gadet but that "the rebels are acting in the right direction." On 22 December, Machar said he wanted to be the leader of the country and that "his" forces would maintain control of the country's oil fields.[80]

Former undersecretary of culture, Jok Madut Jok, warned that the violence could "escalate into tragic acts of ethnic cleansing".[81]

Beginning of rebellion

Despite government claims of having quashed the alleged coup, a further centre of fighting erupted on 17 December round Bor, in Jonglei, where three people had died;[82] and over 1,000 people sought refuge in the UN base.[56] Fighting started again at 9:00 from a military headquarters[83] and another military barrack, according to Hussein Maar, deputy governor of Jonglei.[84] Fighting also occurred near the presidential palace and other areas of Juba. Ajak Bullen, a doctor at a military hospital, said that "so far, we have lost seven soldiers who died while they were waiting for medical attention and a further 59 who were killed outside." The Juba Teaching Hospital had previously confirmed 26 deaths – the same number as the government – but there was no confirmation of overlap or which side the dead soldiers were fighting for.[59][74][83] Hospital director Ajak Bullen said that 400 people were being treated. The International Crisis Group (ICG) also reported that some fighting occurred between the Dinka and Nuer in Pibor in Jonglei amid reports of ethnically targeted killings. It also reported that Machar's house had been bombarded and "surrounded, including with tanks", while "parts of Juba have been reduced to rubble" and that fighting between Nuer and Dinka had taken place at military barracks in Jonglei.[57] Communication links were either down or poor.[85] The local Radio Tamazuj suggested UNMISS were absent from the streets in Juba during the early fighting and that December 2013's president of the UN Security Council, France's Gérard Araud, had announced that the UN peacekeepers would not intervene in the fighting.[75] Amongst NGOs, Emma Jane Drew, the acting director of Oxfam's South Sudan office, said in the first days of the conflict that her team were unable to leave their compound in Juba because of "continued shooting."[74]

Fighting between military factions later erupted beyond Juba in Jonglei, amid fears of a wider conflict. Aguer said that there was overnight fighting among troops in Jonglei on 17–18 December and that he was verifying reports of desertions from the military. This followed reports from the ICG that Nuer in the area were defecting from the armed forces and that the Dinka people feared a repeat of the Bor massacre. Meanwhile, in Juba, a semblance of calm had returned by 18 December with a trickle of traffic.[56] The UN reported that 13,000 people were taking refuge from the fighting in its two compounds in Juba.[57][74]

On 19 December, a Nuer militia led by Peter Gadet, the defected former 8th Division commander, claimed control of Bor, while Aguer admitted that the army lost control of Bor, a day after Kiir said he was willing to have talks with Machar.[86] Ethnically targeted violence was also reported.[81]

Nuer fighters overran the UN base in Akobo, Jonglei, in pursuit of civilians who had sought refuge there. Violence in Juba reportedly calmed, though there were unconfirmed reports of several students killed by security personnel at Juba University on 18 December. The UN announced that thousands of people had sought refuge within the UN's compounds[87] The Indian Ambassador to South Sudan Asoke Mukerji had originally said that three Indian peacekeepers were killed, but UNMISS later said that one of them was only injured and then evacuated to a UN medical facility in Malakal.[33] Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General Hilde Frafjord Johnson noted that the two killed Indian soldiers were helping to protect 36 civilians, when they were attacked by about 2,000 armed youths. “(The youths) opened fire and attacked... from all directions... with the apparent intention of killing the civilians taking shelter there,” Ms. Johnson said.[88] The attack had also resulted in loss of contact with the base while Farhan Haq said the fate of over 30 ethnic Dinka civilians at the base was not known. In response to the incident UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement that read he was "appalled" to learn of the incident and that "there are indications that civilians may have been killed and wounded in the attack, but this remains to be verified. Should these reports prove true, those responsible must be held accountable for their crimes."[89]

At the same time, about 200 employees of the regional petroleum operators, of which the three largest were China National Petroleum Corp, ONGC Videsh and Petronas, sought refuge at an UN compound in Bentiu, Unity State. UNMISS spokesman Joe Contreras said: "We expect their presence to be temporary because we understand that the company they are working for will be arranging for transport to get out of Unity State." Leuth said that the petroleum producing areas have not been affected by the conflict.[90] This followed the deaths of 16 such workers, five workers at a field in Unity State on 18 December and another 11 at the Thar Jath field the next day. Government soldiers then took control of the fields and said that production continued normally. Unity Governor Mabek Lang De Mading said on 18 December: "We have sent reinforcements to Unity yesterday night and they contained the situation. This morning fighting broke out in Thar Jath. We have sent reinforcements and they have now contained the situation. It is stable now."[91] The rebels had reportedly taken over at least some of the country's oil fields amidst fears of Sudan intervening in the country.[92]

Mutineers clashed with troops loyal to President Kiir inside the barracks of the SPLA 4th Division in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State since the evening of 20 December. Heavy fighting over the night resulted in the retreat of the loyal forces from the barracks.[93]

On the morning of 21 December, Maj. Gen. James Koang Chuol, commander of the SPLA's 4th Division, announced on the radio that he had defected and had removed Unity State's governor. He said he had formed a new interim administration and urged people to return to work and remain calm. Juba confirmed that it lost control of Bentiu to a commander loyal to Machar, although Machar denied this.[94]

Forces loyal to the government of South Sudan have moved from Bentiu to the outlying Abiemnom County after the defection of much of the SPLA 4th Division along with its commander. They were later reinforced by SPLA troops from Western Bahr el Ghazal’s 5th division and from Northern Bahr el Ghazal’s 3rd division.[95]

In the north of Unity, Pariang county is home to the Rueng Dinka —the only Dinka group in the state. Fighting broke out in Pariang on 20 December, when some SPLA troops defected to the rebels. On 24 December, an estimated 400 defectors moved southwards from Jaw, the SPLA’s northernmost operating base towards positions held by SPLA forces loyal to Koang Chuol. As of 26 December, the SPLA claimed they had destroyed 37 rebel vehicles in Pariang county, which remains in the hands of the SPLA.[95]

On the same day the ‘interim government’ of the formero SPLA 4th Division Commander James Koang in Unity State announced itself loyal to the former vice president of the country, for the first time openly declaring support to the opposition leader. In an interview on 26 December, the spokesman of the self-declared interim government of the state says that they are now under the direction of Dr. Riek Machar.[96]

Following calls from the government of South Sudan, Uganda deployed its troops to Juba to assist in securing the airport and evacuating Ugandan citizens.[97] On 21 December a flight of three US Air Force V-22 Osprey aircraft en route to evacuate US nationals from Bor took small arms fire from the ground, injuring four Navy SEALs.[98] South Sudan blamed the rebels for the incident.[99] A second evacuation attempt by four UN and civilian helicopters succeeded in evacuating about 15 US nationals, Sudanese-Americans and those working in humanitarian operations, from the United Nations base in Bor on 22 December. Although the base was surrounded by 2,000 armed youths, a rebel commander had promised safe passage for the evacuation. In total 380 officials and private citizens as well as about 300 foreign citizens were flown to Nairobi.[100]

On 22 December, a full-scale tank battle erupted between defected and loyalist factions in Upper Nile.[24] At the same time, U.S. and Nigerian envoys were on their way to Juba to try to negotiate a solution.[80]

In an escalation of the conflict, Aguer said on 23 December that "the army is on its way to Jonglei and Unity to retake territory and will attack within a few hours."[101] This followed the U.S. envoy to the country, Donald Booth, saying that having spoken to Kiir, the latter was committed to talks with Machar without preconditions.[102] The United States military also announced a repositioning of its forces in Africa to prepare for possible further evacuations as the United Nations warned of the planned strikes.[101] At the same time, despite the offer of talks, South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said that "there is no way we will release anybody who is accused of a coup d'état," and he dismissed claims by Machar that rebels had taken over all the major oil fields in Unity and Upper Nile as merely "wishful thinking." It came after Machar said he had spoken to U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.N. envoy Hilde Johnson about resolving the conflict. "My message was let Salva Kiir release my comrades who are under detention and let them be evacuated to Addis Ababa and we can start dialogue straightaway, because these are the people who would (handle) dialogue." His list of detainees to be released included Pagan Amum and Rebecca Garang, of whom Makeui said: "They are criminals who must be brought to the books, so there is no way we can negotiate with (Machar)." Meanwhile, UNMISS spokesman, Joe Contreras, added: "For those elements who are trying to intimidate us or who have attacked us, the message is loud and clear: we are here to serve the people of South Sudan and we are not leaving the country under any circumstances."[23] Machar told Radio France Internationale that the rebel side was ready for talks that could possibly occur in Ethiopia and that he had also spoken to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom. "We want democratic free and fair elections. We want Salva Kiir to call it a day."[103] He added that: "The SPLM is the ruling party and the SPLA is the national army and I believe these two organisations can end the term of President Kiir. President Kiir has failed to unite the people. He is inciting inter-ethnic fighting. Now he is dividing the country. So it is best he leaves, and I believe the SPLA and SPLM can make him leave."[104]

On 24 December, the government of South Sudan claimed to have recaptured Bor,[105] according to Kiir. Aguer said that the army was 11 kilometres (7 mi) outside Bor and would soon advance on the city, and "the other cities will be retaken within 72 hours." He also said that the reports of mass graves would be investigated. There was also tension at the UN compound in the city as armed fighters had entered it and about 17,000 civilians seeking protection were at the location.[106] The day's fighting started at 14:00 and was intense for two hours. The first part of the city recaptured was where the original fighting started, the Pan-pandia SPLA division headquarters and Malual-chaat village, just outside Bor. The claim of victory came at 19:30. Though most of Gadet's troops had left their position, fighting continued around the airport.[107] On the same day, the rebels had also reported in the town of Malakal[108]

Many of these reports have come from the hundreds of foreign oil company employees gathered at the airport to leave.[68] Five Ugandan and ten Kenyan citizens were also evacuated from Bor and then Juba before leaving the country. The Kenyan government said that there were 30,000 of its nationals in the country and that 10,000 had applied for emergency documents. Kenya, answering complaints that they were not responding sufficiently quickly, stated that their priority was to evacuate women and children, and that it was getting aid to the country as best as it could.[109]

On 25 December, fighting continued in Malakal, according to Ateny, who added that the "oil fields are safe."[110] Makwei said that though "there is fighting now in Malakal since morning between the government forces and the rebels. It is not true that the rebels have taken over." Only four of the 10 states of South Sudan had reported fighting, including the aforementioned Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile and Central Equatoria, the location of Juba.[111] The UN also reported that renewed fighting and deteriorating conditions in Jonglei occurred south of Bor and that their base was being reinforced with additional protective barriers, including the area hosting the displaced civilians.[112]

On 27 December, the army said it had taken back full control of Malakal, the administrative center of Upper Nile, a state which currently supplies all of South Sudan's crude oil, after fighting shut down oil fields in other areas. "Government forces are 100 percent in control of Malakal town and are pursuing the forces of the coup," Aguer said by phone in South Sudan capital Juba.[113] On the same day, Machar, in an interview with Sudan Tribune, said a Ugandan MiG-29 bombed their positions around South Sudan Jonglei state capital, Bor, which they temporarily captured before it was retaken by forces loyal to president Salva Kiir. "Our positions around Jonglei state capital, Bor, have been bombed by MiG [29] jet fighter of the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) at around 2pm", Machar said. "We don't yet know the number of casualties", he added. The ex-deputy president condemned what he described as interference by Ugandan forces into South Sudan's internal affairs.[114]

On 29 December, a U.N. helicopter spotted a group of armed youths 50 kilometres (31 mi) from Bor but could not confirm their numbers. Meanwhile, rebels were mobilising youths and armed civilians for another attack on Malakal, the army said. Rebels had been pushed out of the town on Friday.[30]

Marines evacuate U.S. citizens from South Sudan, January 3, 2014

On 30 December, South Sudanese government troops clashed with ethnic White Army militiamen and other rebel factions loyal to Machar late on Monday near the flashpoint town of Bor, government officials said. Shootings have taken place just outside, to the north of Bor, Aguer said by phone from Juba, 190 kilometres (120 mi) south of Bor by road. Earlier Aguer told Reuters there was fighting in the town. Information Minister Michael Makuei also said SPLA troops clashed with rebels on the edge of the Jonglei state capital. Bor town Mayor Nhial Majak Nhial said there was no fighting in the town center from where he spoke to Reuters by phone. A rebel spokesman has denied Machar controls the White Army militiamen.[115]

On 31 December, South Sudanese rebels battled their way to the centre of the strategically important town of Bor and were in control of some neighbourhoods as the fighting continued, Mayor Nhial and Information Minister Michael Makuei.[116]

On 2 January 2014, South Sudanese rebels loyal to Machar seized control of Bor, Nhial said on Wednesday, while government troops had made a "tactical withdrawal" to Malual Chaat army barracks, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) south of the town, after fighting that started earlier in the day. "Yes they (rebels) have taken Bor," Nhial said from Juba.[117] On the same day, Kiir declared a state of emergency in Unity and Jonglei states, where Machar- aligned rebels controlled the capitals.[118] Machar said that his force clashed with the SPLA 25 km (15 miles) outside Bor, destroying a large military convoy.[119]

On 4 January intense battles involving tanks and artillery were reported on the outskirts of Bor, which by this time had changed hands three times since fighting in as many weeks.[120] Rebels claimed that a South Sudanese army general has been killed in the fighting, as his convoy approaching Bor was ambushed. The SPLA brought large numbers of reinforcements bringing the total SPLA troops 25 km (15 miles) Bor close to 2,000.[121]

On 8 January, fighting continued in Upper Nile state while more troops previously based in Juba had defected and could launch an assault on the capital according to rebel spokesman Moses Ruai Lat, who also said that anti-government fighters were preparing to strike at Malakal. Aguer only confirmed that fighting continued to rage around Bor.[122]

On 10 February 2014, the UN base in Juba was surrounded by armed government troops and policemen, who demanded that the UN surrender Nuer civilians sheltering there.[123] On 18 February 2014, fighting between members of various ethnicities broke out within the UN Mission in the capital city of Upper Nile State, Malakal, resulting in ten deaths.[124]

By this time, the UN compound in Malakal housed around 20,000 people who had fled the conflict, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. The UNMISS reported that on 14 January heavy fighting broke out near the UN compound in Malakal. Rebel forces claimed to have recaptured Malakal from the army, while army forces claimed to have held the city after heavy fighting. In the course of this battle, dozens of refugees in the UN compound were injured[125] and a Nile ferry carrying fleeing refugees sank in the river, drowning more than 200 people.[126]

Mayom county has seen the most entrenched clashes in Unity State, with both sides making repeated claims that they are in control of the county. Many of the most important politicians in Unity come from Mayom County, including Nugen Monytuel, the governor of Unity, and much of the SSLM/A. Following the defection of the majority of the SPLA’s 4th division, Monytuel escaped to Mayom county himself.

Mayom county was initially under the control of the rebel forces, while the remaining elements of the 4th division still loyal to Salva Kiir regrouped in Abiemnom county. SPLA-loyalists received a boost when rebel South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLA) forces, led by the Bul Nuer commander Matthew Puljang, decided to support them.[95][127]

On 27 December, the combined SSLA/SPLA force clashed with rebels in Mayom, a strategic town and important trading hub some 90 kilometres (56 mi) from Unity State capital Bentiu, leading to extensive destruction, including of the main market. Rebels advanced on 29 December to seize Mayom, but by 6 January the town was almost entirely destroyed, and the front lines had moved east, towards Tumur. Peter Dak -rebel commander in Mayom- announced that he fled the town on the evening of 7 January. On 9 January, SPLA forces attacked rebel positions at Tor al- Abyad, about 30 kilometres (19 mi) to the west of Bentiu.[95][128]

The advance of the SPLA caused panic in Bentiu. On 8–9 January, thousands of civilians fled the city in expectation of further clashes. The rebels became increasingly disorganized. Armed men looted stalls and shops in Bentiu's market while rebel forces brought a tank into the town to help defend it from the anticipated government attack. Bentiu had been mostly evacuated by 10 January, with even the main hospital being abandoned.[95][129]

On 8 January, much of the rebel force retreated, destroying ammunition dumps along the way, to stop them falling into the hands of the SPLA. On 10 January, fighting resumed on the outskirts of Bentiu. The SPLA force attacking Bentiu was composed of reinforcements from the 3rd and 5th divisions, and the remnants of the 4th division still loyal to the government. The SPLA entered Bentiu in the afternoon, with the rebel forces, including rebel commander Koang Chuol, in full retreat. By the end of the day on 10 January, the SPLA had secured the city.[95]

On 11 January, part of the SPLA garrison at Doleib Hill defected leading to a firefight within the base, which was also the site of George Athor's initial revolt. Later that same day Lt. General Johnson Gony Biliu, Commander of the SPLA's 7th Division, was ambushed while he was departing Malakal in a large convoy.[130]

On 15 January, fighting continued in the streets of Malakal [131] with both sides claiming to control the town as the conflict entered its second month. Civilians emptied out of the town, and at least 200 drowned when their overcrowded boat sank as they tried to flee across the Nile.[132] One civilian was killed and dozens of civilians and a security officer were wounded inside the Malakal UNMISS base by gunfire from outside. UNMISS security returned warning shots.[133]

First ceasefires

Negotiations between both sides were mediated by "IGAD +" (which includes the eight regional nations as well as the African Union, United Nations, China, the EU, USA, UK and Norway). In order to ensure a stronger negotiating position, South Sudanese troops fighting alongside Ugandan troops retook every town held by the rebels, including Bor on January 18[134] and Malakal on January 20.[135] Government troops were assisted by Ugandan troops, against the wishes of IGAD[136] who feared a wider regional conflict.[137] Uganda announced they had joined the fight in January[138] after previously denying it,[139] saying the troops were to only to evacuate Ugandan nationals.[140] On 23 January 2014, representatives of the Government of South Sudan and representatives of rebel leader Riek Machar reached a ceasefire agreement in Ethiopia.[141][142] The deal also stipulated that 11 officials close to rebel leader Machar should be released.[141]

Only a few days later,[143] the rebels accused that a government takeover of Leer was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the second round of talks that were to start later in February.[144] The rebels threatened to boycott the second round talks, demanding the release of four remaining political prisoners and the withdrawal of Ugandan troops.[145] Later in February, the rebels attacked the strategic government controlled Malakal[146] and the government admitted withdrawal[147] and then, in March, the rebels admitted withdrawal, changing hands for the fifth time.[148]

In April, rebels claimed once again to have seized Bentiu[149] and by April 19 South Sudan's army admitted to have "lost communication" with commanders battling in Unity state.[150] The 2014 Bentiu massacre occurred on 15 April in Bentiu when more than 200 civilians were massacred by Nuer rebels. A mosque, hospital, and church were targeted where civilians had sought refuge from the fighting. All the victims were said to have been of Dinka ethnicity.[151] After the fall of Bentiu, Salva Kiir sacked Army chief James Hoth Mai and replaced him with Paul Malong Awan.[22][152]

On 9 May 2014, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar signed the second ceasefire in Addis Ababa, a one-page agreement recommitting to the first ceasefire.[153] Hostilities were to end in 24 hours while a permanent ceasefire would be worked on and it promised to open humanitarian corridors and allow “30 days of tranquility” so farmers can sow crops and prevent famine. Hours after the ceasefire was to be in effect, both sides accused each other of violating the ceasefire.[154]

In May 2014, the government signed a peace agreement called the Greater Pibor Administrative Area peace agreement with the largely Murle group, the Cobra Faction of the South Sudan Democratic Movement, led by David Yau Yau. As part of the peace agreement, a semi-autonomous area called the Greater Pibor Administrative Area was created to increase the minority populations within its borders and David Yau Yau was appointed chief administrator, equivalent to state governor.[155]

The Greater Pibor Administrative Area (highlighted) created as part of a peace agreement between the government and the largely Murle rebel group, the Cobra Faction, in 2014.

On 11 June 2014, both parties agreed to begin talks on the formation of a transitional government within 60 days and to a third ceasefire refraining from combat during this period.[156] However, the talks collapsed as both sides boycotted the talks,[157] and by 16 June, the ceasefire was reported to have been violated.[158]

In August 2014, Kiir and leaders of South Sudan’s neighbouring states sign a roadmap leading to a transitional government of national unity. Machar refuses to sign up, accusing leaders in the IGAD, a regional group involved in the negotiations, of tilting the process in favour of Kiir.[159]

In November 2014, both parties renew the much-broken ceasefire and IGAD mediators give them 15 days to reach a power-sharing deal, threatening sanctions if they fail. This third ceasefire breaks down 24 hours later with fighting in the oil-rich north.[159]

In January 2015, rival factions sign a reunification agreement in Arusha, Tanzania. Some observers hope the surprise accord will push peace negotiations forward, but fighting continued.[159]

In February 2015, Kiir and Machar signed a document in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on “Areas of Agreement” for a future transitional government of national unity.[159] They recommitted themselves to the ceasefire but fail to agree on sharing power. The talks later collapsed and fighting broke out in March.[160][161][162]

New rebel militias

In February 2015, a largely Murle group, the Greater Pibor Forces, which is a splinter from the Cobra Faction of the South Sudan Democratic Movement, declared allegiance to Machar and against Kiir.[15]

Johnson Olony led a militia that planned to be integrated into the SPLM government forces, but he switched to oppose the government when the government announced plans to carve up new states which the Shilluk felt was to divide their homeland.[163] On 16 May 2015, Olony's militia and elements of the SPLM-IO captured Upper Nile's capital, Malakal, as well as Anakdiar and areas around Kodok.[164] His Shilluk militia group now called itself the 'Agwelek forces'.[18] The group said they want to run their affairs independently from others in Upper Nile State, and SPLM-IO backed away from claims that it is in charge of Olony's group and stated that Olony's interests simply coincides with theirs.[165] SPLM-IO said they understood the feeling from the Shilluk community that they wanted a level of independence and that that was the reason the SPLM-IO last year created Fashoda state for the Shilluk kingdom and appointed Tijwog Aguet, a Shilluk, as governor.[18]

On 11 August 2015, Gathoth Gatkuoth, the former SPLM-IO logistics chief, and rebel commander Peter Gadet, announced that they and other powerful commanders had split from Riek Machar, believing him to be "seeking power for himself". They rejected ongoing peace talks and announced that they would now combat Riek Machar's forces in addition to government forces, saying, "They (Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir) are symbols of hate, division and failed leadership, both leaders were responsible for starting the crisis."[34] Gathoth Gatkuoth states he wishes for a President who is neither Dinka nor Nuer. Gatkuoth states that he intends to register his group as a political group called the "Federal Democractic Party" and that their forces would be called the "South Sudan National Army".[13]

Compromise Peace Agreement

In late August 2015, Salvar Kiir signed a peace agreement previously signed by Riek Machar called the "Compromise Peace Agreement" mediated by IGAD +. The agreement would make Riek Machar the vice-president again.[159][166] The agreement established the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) responsible for monitoring and overseeing implementation of the agreemnt. On 20 October 2015, Uganda announced that it will voluntarily withdraw its soldiers from South Sudan, in accordance to that peace agreement.[167] In January 2016, David Yau Yau dissolved the Cobra Faction of the South Sudan Democratic Movement and joined the SPLM.[168] In April 2016, as part of the peace deal, Machar returned to Juba with troops loyal to him and was sworn in as vice-president.[169]

The Catholic Cathedral of Wau town, where many Fertit sought protection during the clashes.

On Christmas Eve 2015, Salvar Kiir announced he was going forward with a plan to increase the number of states from 10 to 28 and then, five days later, swore in all new governors appointed by him and considered loyal to him.[163] The new borders give Kiir's Dinkas a majority in strategic locations.[163] Some observers feel that the government is holding on to the peace deal to maintain international aid while backing campaigns to increase Dinka control over land and resources traditionally held by other groups.[170] Azande youth rose up when Dinka cattle herders, backed by the SPLA, occupied farmland.[171] In February 2016, Dinka SPLA soldiers attacked a UN camp targeting Nuer and Shilluk who accused the government of annexing parts of their ancestral land.[172] About a year after the peace agreement was signed, groups of ethnic Dinka youth and the SPLA targeted members of the Fertit in Wau, killing dozens and forcing more than 120,000 to flee their homes.[173] In April 2016, Murle fighter in South Sudan crossed over to Ethiopia and killed more than 200 people, stole 2000 cattle and kidnapped more than 100 children from the Nuer tribe. Ethiopian troops crossed over the border with the South Sudanese government's permission to track the kidnappers in what some felt is the spilling over of fighting into Ethiopia.[174]

Second Juba clashes and renewed conflict

Main article: 2016 Juba clashes

Violence erupted in July 2016 after an attack outside of where President Kiir and Riek Machar were meeting in Juba. Fighting spread throughout the city. Over 300 people were killed and over 40 people were injured, including civilians.[175] In the following week, 26,000 fled to neighboring Uganda.[176] Indian Air Force evacuated Indian citizens from the country under Operation Sankat Mochan.[177] A spokesman for Riek Machar announced that South Sudan was "back to war" and that opposition forces based in areas of Juba had been attacked by forces loyal to the President.[178] Fighting involving heavy machine guns, mortars and tanks was reported in several parts of Juba on 10 July. Gun battles broke out near the airport and a UN base forcing the airport to close for safety reasons.[179] President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar ordered a ceasefire after days of intense violence.[180] Machar fled Juba after the clashes. After a 48-hour ultimatum given by Kiir for Machar to return to Juba to progress with the peace agreement talks passed, the SPLA-IO in Juba appointed lead negotiator Taban Deng Gai to replace Machar and the government accepted him as acting vice-president. Machar said any talks would be illegal because Machar had previously fired Gai.[176] Machar, with assistance from the UN, went to exile to Kinshasa[181] and then to Sudan for medical treatment.[47]

After the Juba clashes, the African Union backed plans for the deployment of troops from regional nations with a strong mandate similar to that of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade that swiftly defeated the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo as UN troops presently within the country have struggled to protect civilians.[182] In August 2016, The UN Security Council authorized such a force for Juba. The government initially opposed the move, claiming a violation of sovereignty.[183] With a resolution threatening an arms embargo if it blocked the new deployment, the government accepted the move with conditions such as the troops not being from neighboring countries, claiming they have interests at stake.[184] They also accepted a hybrid court to investigate war crimes.[185] After an independent report into UNMISS's failure to protect civilians in the Juba clashes, Secretary-General Ban sacked the commander of the UN force Lt Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki in November[186] and then the general's native Kenya declared that it would withdraw its more than 1000 peacekeepers from UNMISS[187] and pull out of the key role it plays in the peace process.[188]

In September 2016, Machar announced a call for armed struggle against Kiir.[189] In September, Lam Akol, a former minister of agriculture, announced a new faction called the National Democratic Movement to overthrow Kiir.[190] In the same month, the Cobra Faction of the South Sudan Democratic Movement, now led by Kahlid Boutros declared war against the government.[52] In November, Machar said SPLM-IO would not participate in a workshop organized by JMEC, saying the peace agreement needs to be revised.[191] In October, the government claimed that 56 rebels and four SPLA soldiers were killed when the government fought back a rebel attempt to take Malakal[192] while in November SPLM-IO claimed to have taken of the towns Bazi, Morobo and Kaljak.[191] Since the July clashes, the fighting largely shifted from the Greater Upper Nile to the previously safe haven of Equatoria, where the bulk of SPLM-IO forces went for shelter.[193] As the fighting spread to rural areas and the agricultural belt in the south, the number of people facing starvation soared to 6 million.[194] After Adama Dieng, the U.N.'s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, warned of genocide after visiting areas of fighting in Yei, the US pushed for an arms embargo and sanctions on Machar and army chief Paul Malong Awan through the Security Council, which were opposed by Russia.[195]


The Guardian and BBC reported that 240 Nuer men were rounded up and killed at a police station in Juba in mid-December 2013.[196][197] UN Assistant General Secretary Ian Simonovic has cited and confirmed these survivor stories in an opinion article into the Gudele massacre.[198] Official death toll has not been released as South Sudan government troops have blocked access to Gudele and other affected, now abandoned suburbs of Juba.[199] The Guardian report also reported that 21 Nuer youths as well as three women were killed in two other incidents.[196] This number sets to grow, as Human Rights Watch article cites eye witness accounts of truck loads of bodies carried to undisclosed site on December 18, 2013, shortly after the Gudele massacre of Nuer civilians.[200] The location of the burial cites is unknown. Numbers of the dead in Juba now exceed initial estimates.[201] Human Rights Watch has noted the South Sudan government has sealed off access to Nuer suburbs where the genocide began. The affected neighborhoods are heavily guarded with armed security presence, hampering reporting and independent investigation.[199] Government officials have not announced a list of the dead or the location of the bodies.[199] Claiming ignorance of killings, Phillip Aguer, the SPLA spokesman, denied any organized attacks had taken place. He said he was unaware of the slaughter at Mangaten police station and blamed any deaths on "criminal elements" who had exploited the instability as an opportunity loot and kill. His comments come in direct opposition to UN Assistant General Secretary, Ian Simonovic report.[198] Claims by Aguer also are at odds with survivor accounts, and Human Rights Watch Reports.[196][200] Armed government soldiers have been noted roaming the suburbs in an "undisciplined and threatening manner."[199]

Ateny Wek Ateny, president's spokesman told to news conference, claims that rebel troops went into the hospital in the town of Bor last month and slaughtered 126 out of 127 patients. Apparently an elderly man was blind and rebels spared him.[202] January 31, 2014 in violation cease fire agreement,the signed Government troops attacked town of Leer in Unity State, forcing 240 Staff and patients of Doctors Without Borders in Leer to flee into the bush. Thousands of civilians have flet to the bush. Doctors Without Borders has lost contact with two thirds of its staff formerly located in Leer.[203][204] It is believed that the town was attacked by government troops as it is the home of former Vice President Riek Machar.[205] On 18 April, UN said that at least 58 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded in an attack against one of its bases in South Sudan sheltering thousands of civilians.[206]

200 people were killed in a mosque when Bentiu was recaptured by rebels on 16 April and an unspecified number were also killed at a hospital. Rebels separated the people and picked out those from opposing ethnic groups who they then executed.[207]

On 17 April 2014, 58 people were killed in an attack on the UN base in Bor.[208][209][210][211] 48 of those killed were civilians, while 10 were among the attackers.[210][210] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasised that any attack on UN peacekeepers constituted "a war crime",[208] while the UN Security Council expressed "outrage" at the attack.[212][213]

On 26 August 2014, a UN Mi-8 cargo helicopter was shot down, killing 3 Russian crew members, and wounding another. This occurred 9 days after rebel commander Peter Gadet threatened to shoot down UN aircraft, which he alleged were transporting government forces.[214]

Ethnic cleansing

Immediately after the initial mutiny, eyewitness accounts also cite SPLM Dinka troops assisted by guides in house to house searches to Nuer homes and killing civilians in Juba.[200] Similar door to door searches of members of the Nuer ethnicity have been reported in the government held capital city of the Upper Nile State, Malakal.[215]

Violence against UN and foreign workers

It has been argued that with increased tension with the UN and outside powers over the government's actions there has been a new shift in violence by the government against foreign peacekeepers, aid workers and diplomats.[216] During the 2016 Juba clashes, 80-100 South Sudanese troops entered the Terrain hotel facility and gang raped five international aid workers, singling out Americans for abuse.[216] In July, soldiers ransacked a World Food Programme warehouse, stealing enough food to feed 220,000 people for a month, worth about $30 million.[216] In July, a Rocket-propelled grenade was fired near a UN peacekeepers' vehicle with two Chinese peacekeepers dying after the government refused passage to a clinic 10 miles away.[216]


During the first two days of fighting, reports indicated that 66 soldiers had been killed in clashes in Juba,[217] but that number was complemented by between 400 and 500 people, mostly soldiers, according to a government official[218] and UN diplomats quoting sources in Juba,[219] and at least 800 injured.[220] Two Indian UN peacekeepers were killed on 18 December when their base was stormed by rebels, and three US military Osprey aircraft were fired upon leading to four American service personnel being wounded.[221]

On 23 December, the UN's humanitarian coordinator stated the number of dead had likely surpassed 1,000 people[80] while an aid worker in the country estimated that the death toll was most likely in the tens of thousands.[24] On 24 December, the UN's Navi Pillay claimed that the bodies of 75 government soldiers were discovered in a mass grave in Bentiu, while another two mass graves were reportedly found in Juba.[222] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees's Ravina Shamdasani said an unnamed official had seen over 30 bodies in the two mass graves and its existence was being verified. "It is very difficult, and there are reports that some bodies may have already been burned."[223] On 25 December, UNMISS denied the report of a mass grave that was issued by UNHCR. At the same time, Pillay's office revised down the figure of dead bodies to 34 bodies and 75 people were feared missing.[224]

On 26 December, Hilde Frafjord Johnson, head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, also confirmed estimates that well over 1,000 people had died in 12 days of fighting, while dismissing reports that the death toll was in the multiple thousands.[225]

The International Crisis Group reported on 9 January that up to 10,000 people were estimated to have died.[201]

A senior SPLA officer stated in November 2014 that the number of government soldiers killed and wounded topped 20,000, with 10,659 soldiers killed from January to October 2014 and 9,921 seriously wounded, according to a report by Radio Tamazuj.[226] These estimates were based on unofficial statistics and the army did not provide updated figures in 2015.

In addition to those wounded or killed, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has stated that about 413,000 people are internally displaced, 66,500 are seeking refuge at United Nations bases around the country, and more than 74,300 have fled the country.[227]

On 21 January 2014 Ankunda said that 9 Ugandan soldiers died in a rebel ambush at Gemeza a week ago, and 12 others had been killed in total since 23 December.[39]

On 11 April, UNICEF warned that Conflict in South Sudan has triggered a serious risk of famine that will kill up to 50,000 children within months if immediate action is not taken.[228]

In November 2014, the International Crisis Group estimated the death toll could be between 50,000 and 100,000.[229] In March 2016, some aid workers and officials estimated the death toll could be as high as 300,000.[36]

See also


  1. The Cobra Faction openly opposed the government until 2014, and remained in relative opposition until 2015, when it divided into a pro-government and pro-SPLM-IO faction, the latter of which formed the Greater Pibor Forces. In early 2016, the Cobra Faction effectively disbanded, when the remaining group joined the government.[9][15][16] In September 2016, however, the Cobra Faction was declared restored by some of its commanders and declared that it had resumed its struggle against the government.[17]
  2. Zangil served as commander of the SSDM/A - Cobra Faction since 2013 until he deserted with much of his troops to the SPLM-IO in 2015, forming the "Greater Pibor Forces".[9][15]</ref>
    Peter Gadet
    David Yau Yau[lower-alpha 3]
  3. Yau Yau led the SSDM/A - Cobra Faction in open opposition to the SPLM government until 2014, and in relatively peaceful autonomy until 2015, when much of his forces deserted to the SPLM-IO. In 2016, he and his remaining loyalists joined the SPLM.[9][16]<ref>"Pibor's Yau Yau joins SPLM". Sudan Tribune.


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