April 21, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese rebels allied to the former vice president, Riek Machar, have officially launched the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA) “armed resistance” and called for restructuring of all public sectors in the state of South Sudan to conform to the federal system of governance.
- South Sudan’s former vice-president Riek Machar (AFP/Getty)
The leadership of SPLM/SPLA and representatives of other political parties, faith based groups, civil society organizations, youth and women groups, traditional leaders, church leaders and eminent personalities, met from April 15th-18th, 2014 in Nasir, Upper Nile State, South Sudan, in a consultative conference which resolved on various matters in the newly launched armed struggle.
The conference “resolved to establish in South Sudan a democratic, just, transparent and people-driven political system-Federalism,” reads one of its resolutions.
The conference further agreed that a future interim government shall be based on a comprehensive peace agreement which shall address the structuring of the state on the basis of an interim federal constitution.
It also resolved to transform and sensitise the regular forces as well as ensure the transformation of the volunteer fighters into discipline soldiers under the SPLA command and control.
The conference also endorsed the former vice president, Riek Machar, as the chairperson and commander-in-chief of the new movement.
It also declared president Salva Kiir as “an illegitimate leader given his deeds” that have dragged the country into the current political, security and humanitarian crisis, and further called on the international community to do the same.
The rebel movement formed a provisional leadership structure with eight specialised committees, each to be headed by a chairperson. He or she will be deputised by a deputy and secretary, three of whom shall be appointed by the chairperson of the movement from able and competent members of the movement.
Each committee shall comprise of 15 members and assisted by a secretariat.
The conference resolved that such committees shall include peace and national reconciliation committee; political mobilisation committee; foreign affairs committees; justice and human rights committee; finance and resources mobilization committee; information and public relations committee; humanitarian and social services committee; and women and youth empowerment committee.
The conference reiterated the call for withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country, such as the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) that are fighting alongside Salva Kiir’s government.
It also renewed commitment to the peace processes mediated by the regional bloc –IGAD, but warned of intensifying the war into Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal regions to remove Kiir from power should the government in Juba not talk peace in good faith.
South Sudan rebels deny Bentiu slaughter accusation
Rebel fighters remain in control of Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State
Rebels in South Sudan have denied a UN report that they killed hundreds of civilians after taking control of the oil hub, Bentiu, last week.
Brig Lul Ruai Koang told the BBC there was a security vacuum after government forces left the town.
The UN said that civilians were killed along ethnic lines at a mosque, a church and a hospital.
More than a million people have been forced from their homes since fighting broke out in December 2013.
The conflict pits President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against his former Vice-President, Riek Machar, from the Nuer community.
In a civil war marked by numerous human rights abuses, the reports from Bentiu are among the most shocking.
The rebels are accused of killing Dinkas (President Kiir’s ethnic group), Sudanese (because of the alleged support of Darfuri rebel groups for President Kiir) and Nuers who were not overtly cheering their fellow Nuer rebels.
The victims hid in hospitals and places of worship, but did not find sanctuary there.
Many of the rebels say they took up arms because of the murder of their relatives in Juba at the beginning of this conflict.
Both sides have committed terrible abuses.
However the scale of the killings carried out by rebel troops, including the feared White Army militia, in Bentiu, Bor and Malakal, has turned many people against the rebel leader, Riek Machar.
With the rainy season approaching, and negotiations set to resume in Addis Ababa, there is likely to be more fighting – and very likely more atrocities – in the next few weeks.
Although both men have prominent supporters from various communities, there have been numerous reports of rebels killing Dinkas and the army targeting Nuers.
But correspondents say that the killings in Bentiu are among the most shocking since the conflict began.
‘Piles of bodies’
The UN’s top humanitarian official in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that he had seen “piles of [the bodies of] people who had been slaughtered” last week.
He said they all appeared to be civilians.
Non-Nuer South Sudanese and foreign nationals were singled out and killed, the UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) said.
Some 200 civilians were reportedly killed at the town’s Kali-Ballee mosque where they had sought shelter.
At the hospital, Nuer men, women and children, who hid rather than cheer the rebel forces as they entered the town, were also killed, it said.
The statement also said that hate speech had been broadcast on local radio stations, urging men to rape women from certain communities.
Many of those killed were Sudanese traders, especially from Darfur, Mr Lanzer said.
South Sudan analyst James Copnall says they could have been targeted because rebel groups in Darfur are alleged to back President Kiir against the rebels.
But Brig Koang told the BBC’s Newsday programme: “Our forces are not responsible for killing civilians anywhere in Bentiu.”
He suggested that government forces and their allies could have been responsible in order to make the conflict appear as though it was “tribal war”.
Video footage from the UN shows bodies lying in the streets of Bentiu
Upsurge in fighting
Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, has changed hands several times during the conflict.
Control of the oilfields is crucial because South Sudan gets about 90% of its revenue from oil.
A ceasefire was signed in January but there has been a recent upsurge in fighting.
Last week, the UN said an attack on one of its bases in the central town of Bor in which at least 58 people were killed could constitute a war crime.
Fighting broke out last year after Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar of plotting to stage a coup.
Mr Machar, who was sacked as vice-president earlier in 2013, denied the charges but launched a rebellion.
The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, which became the world newest state after seceding from Sudan in 2011.
Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians’ political bases are often ethnic. BBC