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Is There a Third Force Involved in South Sudan's Crisis?

13/07/2016 10:50

South Sudan's vice president Riek Machar has said he survived what he believes was an assassination attempt, possibly targeting both him and President Salva Kiir, during his visit to the presidential palace last Friday.

"I think it was a plot to liquidate me or even the president" he said in an interview with the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme. "My house has been attacked, bombed, tanks rolled on it, and it has been ransacked."

The people of South Sudan should have been celebrating their fifth independence anniversary on 9th July. Instead, those in the capital Juba were sheltering from the gunfire raging around them.

Thousands of people who were already displaced by previous violence - were once again forced to flee - after some of the camps they were sheltering in were repeatedly shelled by both "light weapons and heavy artillery", according to the UN.

The fighting appeared to have started on Thursday evening, after a disagreement at a military check point, between forces loyal to president Salva Kiir and those loyal to Machar.

Five soldiers from Salva Kiir's faction died in that incident.

Then on Friday, as both leaders prepared to hold a joint press conference to address that skirmish, very heavy gunfire erupted, just outside the presidential palace.

Both men said they knew nothing about the shooting- and promptly addressed the nation, appealing for calm.

By Saturday, the fighting had intensified. A military spokesman of the vice president told the BBC, that it was now a "full scale war".

As international NGOs and embassies scrambled to evacuate their foreign personnel, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Sunday night and condemned the violence, calling for a halt on attacks on UN facilities.

On Monday, the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate an arms embargo. "When a government cannot or will not protect its people, and when warring parties seem more intent on enriching themselves at the expense of other people, the international community has a responsibility to act," he said.

He added "South Sudan's leaders have failed their people; rarely has a country squandered so much promise".

And it's not only the UN that has lost patience with South Sudan's leaders.

Mr. Ban's sentiments are shared by many of South Sudan's international partners.

Even before this recent fighting, the government had announced that there would not be any official independence day celebrations due to a lack of funds.

The country is a single revenue economy - dependent on oil. Unfortunately, the sector has been hit by the fall in global oil prices. And yet the young nation still has to pay its northern neighbour Sudan, to transport its oil through its territory. The commodity has become almost worthless to the oil rich country.

The only other source of budgetary support was from its development partners. But several donors, including Britain, Norway and the United States have withheld their funds due to the slow progress in implementing the peace agreement.

South Sudan's coffers have been steadily drying up, and the economy is dire- with inflation at almost 300%.

Civil servants have not been paid for months. Recently the Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth admitted the cash crisis: "There is no money, even myself I have not been paid for the last three months," he said on state media.

The economic crisis is just one of the country's problems.

There is the issue of trust between the president and vice president.

Riek Machar returned to Juba in April, following several delays. This was because according to the government, he had "wanted to come with an arsenal of arms - including anti-tanks, laser guided missiles and heavy machine guns".

As part of the peace deal, that created the transitional government of national unity, he was allowed to come with an arsenal of weapons and a 1,300 strong protection force - who would be under his command.

The force was supposed to begin joint patrols with troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, but the two sides failed to agree on the transitional security arrangements - largely due to a lack of trust. Thursday's check point skirmishes could be attributed to this.

Hilde Johnson, the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to South Sudan said the lack of trust at the top, filters down to the troops on the ground.

In addition, there appears to be a lack of communication, and command and control of the different factions.

When the fighting escalated on Friday, the two leaders jointly appealed for calm. But Machar's spokesman had a different story on his Facebook page - saying there had been an attempt to arrest the vice president during his visit to state house.

Both leaders on Monday afternoon ordered their troops to cease fire and return to their units. But their calls for a cessation of hostilities went unheeded for several hours.

Now Machar is insinuating there could be a third party involved.

Should we therefore believe Riek Machar's claims? And if so, who could this be? Could it be an internal or external force? Or is this just an attempt by both leaders to extricate themselves from blame for this recent violence?

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