A diplomat in Addis Ababa echoed the bishops’ dim view. “It’s all about two people and their cronies fighting to steal the wealth of South Sudan,” he said.
– A divided region –
Half the country’s 12 million people need aid, according to the United Nations, which is also guarding some 100,000 civilians trapped inside UN camps ringed with barbed wire, too terrified to venture out for fear of being killed.
The eight-member IGAD, which leads mediation efforts, has been partly stymied by internal divisions. Kenya and Uganda are leery of imposing sanctions because both have important economic ties to South Sudan. Meanwhile, Uganda has troops in South Sudan to defend Kiir and Sudan is widely suspected of backing Machar.
More than two dozen armed forces — from ragtag militia, to rebels from neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur region, to the Ugandan troops backing Kiir — are all now fighting.
“I’m not sure that anyone would have managed it any better than IGAD has,” said Alex Rondos, the EU’s special representative for the Horn of Africa.
“We’re talking about the breakdown of South Sudan’s whole political system and yet IGAD has contained what could have been a dangerous regional confrontation. It could have created a proxy war, but we’re not there yet,” Rondos said.
Fighting began in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup. It quickly spread from the capital Juba triggering a cycle of retaliatory massacres across the country.
The Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research group, said Thursday that both sides have spent recent months “reinforcing their military positions” to prepare for a “dry season military campaign”.
Threats of sanctions are repeatedly made but not implemented. The European Union and the United States placed travel bans on three military leaders accused of atrocities but Kiir and Machar remain untouched.
Diplomats are left with few options other than to continue talking, and to accept any deal that offers the hope of an end to the slaughter, however inadequate.