New militias 'spawning' in South Sudan's civil war

New militias 'spawning' in South Sudan's civil war
New militia groups, some "opportunists", others "downright criminal", have emerged in South Sudan since renewed violence erupted there last July, officials said on Friday.
3 min read
10 February, 2017
South Sudan was ravaged by war in 2013 [AFP]

Some "opportunist" militia groups and others described as "downright criminal", have emerged in South Sudan since renewed violence erupted there last July, the head of an international ceasefire monitoring team said on Friday.

The new rebel groups "did not exist before" and only formed after violent clashes broke out in the region of the capital Juba, forcing more than 10,000 people to seek refuge at a UN base at the time, Festus Mogae, a former president of Botswana who leads the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) confirmed.

"Some are opportunists, others are downright criminals, because of the shortage of food," Mogae said. "There are allegations that some groups are targeting Dinkas." 

Mogae described the complicated network of rebel groups with different agendas joining the conflict, evidence of the complexity of the civil war in South Sudan.

Some of the groups are driven by revenge along ethnic lines, others feel marginalised and excluded by the peace deal, which largely brought together Kiir's Dinkas and Machar's Nuers. 

The rest are simply criminals, he added, intent on looting humanitarian aid.

"This is why we are saying to the government: do something," Mogae said. "These people are nationals. The people of Equatoria are South Sudanese, they have legitimate grievances that the government must address."

In December 2013, South Sudan was struck with war, pitting the country's majority Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir against his former vice-president Riek Machar and his Nuer tribe supporters.

Observers said it later metastasised with other tribes joining one side or the other, often with the hope of getting an upper hand in local conflicts over land and other issues.

Two and a half years later, a peace agreement was signed, raising hopes of an end to the conflict, but the deal's implementation lasted just over two months.

"The government of national unity is functioning with inadequate representation," Mogae said. "The government has to be more inclusive. It must include more of Riek Machar's people."

After its outbreak in Juba, the war was largely restricted to the northern states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei but in the past six months it has expanded into the southern Equatoria region surrounding Juba.

Ethnic killings also intensified, particularly in and around the southern town of Yei, pushing tens of thousands of people to seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda.

Dinka troops were accused of driving the atrocities, which drew the attention of the international community. It led UN experts in early December to report "ethnic cleansing" in several parts of South Sudan.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, but the conflict escalated into a humanitarian crisis where more than six million people - half of South Sudan's population - are in need of urgent aid, the United Nations has reported.

Humanitarian organisations expect this number to rise by 20 to 30 percent in 2017.