On Thursday last week, rival factions of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar in the presidential compound as the world’s youngest nation were to celebrate the 5th anniversary of its independence together. This celebration follows a protracted political and military crisis, between Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar, which rocked the young country.
A firefight between rival leader’s forces in Juba erupted again on Thursday night. The fighting spread through the city as shelling began between rival leaders’ forces.
According to a Reuters report, a health ministry source claimed that at least 272 people had been killed since the violence began. The violence intensified over the weekend to involve heavy artillery, tanks, and helicopters.
On Monday, Mr. Kiir declared a “unilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities,” at 6:00 PM local time, a gesture which was reciprocated by Mr. Machar, who ordered his forces to stand down.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny stated, "The president talked to Machar...they have talked about controlling their forces in an attempt to salvage what has remained of the peace agreement."
The strained relationship between Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar began in December 2013 after Mr. Kiir accused Mr. Machar of plotting a coup. This came two years after the state negotiated its independence from Sudan in July 9, 2011. Both leaders have been accused of being complicit in human rights abuses that have led to the deaths of thousands.
The international community was involved in South Sudan’s independence intervened in the situation with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling on the Security Council to impose an "immediate arms embargo" on South Sudan.
The US and India are evacuating their non-essential nationals from the country. The Indian External Affairs office has warned its nationals not to travel to the country. The violence in Juba has left two Chinese peacekeeping forces dead.
According to the U.N.'s mission in South Sudan, at least 36,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Juba, and are in need of urgent assistance.
The ceasefire finally deescalated the violence. However, concerns mount whether the violence in Sudan could lead to another civil war as it is an indication of how serious the divide is between rival leaders.
Netsanet Belay, Africa Director, Research and Advocacy of Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, recommended to African governments that “ The latest horrific bloodshed in South Sudan demonstrates the urgent need for African leaders gathering in Kigali to take steps not only to resolve such conflicts but also to tackle their root causes.”
The 27th AU Summit will be held in Kigali, Rwanda on July 18, where African countries will be laying out steps to tackle, among other challenges, the problem of armed conflict that is facing the continent.