Troops loyal to the government of South Sudan are planning to regain control over oil-rich provinces that have fallen to forces supporting a former vice-president—the move threatening a full-blown Civil War as well as foreign intervention in the impoverished African nation.
Embattled President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir has decided to dispatch troops to take over two strategic cities, one of which is central to the country’s oil production and the other home to UN forces, which are sheltering 17,000 people who have escaped the fighting.
Forces loyal to Mr. Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked by the President in July have taken over the oil rich Unity state, as well as state of Jonglei, whose capital Bor has a strong presence of UN peacekeepers.
Fully aware that control over oil, which contributes 98 per cent of South Sudan’s revenue, will determine his own, and his country’s destiny, Mr. Machar has directed his forces to dominate energy production strongholds. Apart from Unity state, his forces have taken over large tracts of the Upper Nile state, another oil rich destination.
Mr. Machar told Sudan Tribune that Upper Nile would “soon” fall, in anticipation of his loyalists, including the breakaway elements of the national South Sudan Army (SPLA), taking over the entire province, including capital Malakal. He asserted that army division seven under a Major General had defected and joined his ranks.
The British educated former vice-president has promised to protect oil companies and workers in the two oil-producing states. He criticised Mr. Kiir’s government for the alleged closure of oil companies after his forces overran the oil fields, where Asian oil majors including India’s ONGC Videsh, had acquired a niche. Prepared for the long haul, Mr. Machar said that oil revenues would soon be diverted into an “extra account to which the oil revenues will be remitted for the economic interest of the people of South Sudan”.
Sections of the media are reporting an intensifying ethnic conflict between Dinka and Nuer groups, evoking horrifying memories of earlier inter-ethnic bloodletting in Africa, which subsequently became justifications for “humanitarian interventions” by foreign powers.
But France 24 television is quoting Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa Project Director at the International Crisis Group as saying that a definite pattern of conflict along ethnic lines was yet to emerge.
“Many Dinkas are being arrested as well. The Dinkas are not unified and there is no strong solidarity within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) politicians,” he observed. “It’s being manipulated by all sides and people are instrumentalising ethnic identity to achieve political ends.”
As the conflict escalates, the chances of deeper international intervention in South Sudan have heightened. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Security Council for 5,500 additional troops to supplement the 7,000 strong UN contingents in South Sudan. He has also requested three attack helicopters, three transport helicopters and one military transport plane, apart from hundreds of police.
The United States, which has formed the Africa Command, is injecting 150 Marines and six transport planes drawn from Spain to Djibouti, apparently to help evacuate Americans and protect those who would remain in the country. Former U.S. envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Princeton Lyman fixed the blame of the current impasse on Mr.Kiir, the President. He told the BBC on Monday that Mr. Kiir’s reluctance to accept a democratic transition of the ruling SPLM had resulted in the on-going crisis.