Things have been going downhill fast in South Sudan, Africa's newest country. In spite of efforts to get talks going, and attempts at mediation by South Sudan's neighbors, fighting continues between factions aligned with President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. Up to 200,000 have fled within South Sudan or across the border to neighboring states. Many civilians have died.
The conflict is a power struggle among different factions within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the revolutionary force which, having fought against the Sudanese Dictator Omar Hassan al Bashir, ended up ruling South Sudan when it got its independence in 2011.
In June 2013, the President, Salva Kiir, fired several members of the government, including Vice President Machar. This led to frictions between military units allied with Kiir and those aligned with Machar. The actual fighting began in the capital, Juba, on Dec. 15, between soldiers from the Machar's Nuer ethnic group and others from Mr. Kiir's Dinka ethnic group. Some soldiers began to hunt down Nuers, both soldiers and civilians, and kill them. Kiir arrested important Machar supporters, leading to between loyalists of Kiir and followers of Machar all over the country. The conflict has taken on an ethnic overtone, even though there are also some Nuer supporters of Kiir and some Dinkas aligned with Machar.
Now fighting is threatening Unity Province, a center for production of oil which constitutes 98 percent of South Sudan's exports.
The Communist Party, an important force in Sudan, opposed the division of the country in 2011, calling rather for the overthrow of the al Bashir regime and its replacement by a democratic and secular state. However, when South Sudan seceded, the Communist Party also divided into separate Sudanese and South Sudanese organizations.
The Communist Party of South Sudan has issued a public appeal:
"In July 2013, when the President of the Republic [Salva Kiir] dissolved his entire cabinet and removed his vice-president [Mr. Macher], we in the Communist Party described this, in a public statement, as a further step in a series of power struggle moves within the ruling party, and pointed out that this struggle was far removed from solving the post-independence problems like poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, disease and the degradation of living standards. It is focused on who should rule the country and for how long. The appointments to positions of authority have become the main source of quick accumulation of wealth and high salaries and unlimited privileges and services. The interests of the [sic] parasitic capitalism and the bureaucracy in government have joined hands in robbing the state... We stressed that the power struggle opened the way for all probabilities, including the resort to violence, and pointed out that the solution was in the formation of a national government with the participation of all parties agreeing on a minimal plan of action. The political differences would be left to the public to settle in forthcoming elections.....
"This time, the struggle takes place against the background of a ruling party, the SPLM, that has failed to run the affairs of the country....both wings of the SPLM have failed and its warring factions bear the responsibility for the crisis and the deterioration of the situation..."
"The ethnic background and the formation of the SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] from the two major ethnicities and especially within the Republican Guards and not on a national basis, is one of the reasons behind the current crisis in the country. In spite of the absorption of most of the militias in the SPLA, each militia retained its former structure and its leadership within the SPLA. Every side in the conflict resorted first to its militias and the sons of its own ethnicities....the conflict has descended into a sharp ethnic conflict...The repercussions of the current war will lead to dangerous events threatening the social fabric and creating a spirit of enmity among the main ethnicities in the country. Its continuation could lead to the cessation of petroleum production and the prolongation of austerity measures...."
"We therefore condemn, in the sharpest tone, the current bloody events and condemn all who directly or indirectly planned the turmoil, and call for all who committed crimes against humanity to appear before international justice".
The statement thanks the United Nations Security Council for reinforcing UN military forces in the country and also the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (a grouping of East African states) for their its mediation efforts. It called for Mr. Kiir's government to create the atmosphere for negotiations by releasing all detainees, and for both sides to call a cease-fire without preconditions.
"We in the Communist Party reject the reinstitution of SPLM hegemony over national issues....It is imperative that the SPLM ...admit the grievous mistakes and apologize to the people of South Sudan". The new government should be democratic and representative, and the army should be restructured with recruitment done nationally and not by ethnic group.
Photo: Civilians in South Sudan take refuge at a compound. Rolla Hinedi/AP