By Steve Paterno
January 9, 2014 - Going into the fourth week, the conflict in South Sudan is reaching the tipping point. On the ground, the much rumored rebel threats march into capital Juba dissipated on its own accord. The government assurance to recapture all the rebel held towns such as Bor and Bentiu within hours seem to have stacked right on track. In other words, the conflict is on stalemate, only supported by rhetoric and counter rhetoric.
The fallout of this conflict can however never be ignored. The continuous death, destruction and carnage is sending the civilians in their thousands to seek protection. The United Nation mission in the country is sounding an alarm of impending humanitarian catastrophe.
The much anticipated hope with the ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa is dragging on and is actually stalling. This is largely due over rebels demands and preconditions prior to any serious negotiations ever taking place, while the government insists on negotiations without any preconditions. At the center of contention is the rebels demand for the immediate release of detained prisoners implicated in a coup attempt carried out by the rebels defacto leader, Riek Machar. Actually, the pressure on the demand for the release of the detained political prisoners is coming from all directions, including from a powerful South Sudanese ally, the United States of America.
America, a country often accused for its foreign policy blunders is once again caught, advocating for contradicting positions in South Sudan’s conflict.
First, American government pledges its support to the government of South Sudan and that it opposes a violence removal of the government. And then it turns around and pressures the government in support of the rebels for the release of individuals suspected of planning to violently remove the government. By standing with the rebels’ precondition for negotiations, the USA is in part playing negatively by sending such contradicting positions, which contributes in stalling the talks.
The issue of detained prisoners require some contextual augmentation. The nine detained prisoners include a collection of senior party and government officials. They were summarily dismissed from their positions for incompetence, insubordination, corruption and other charges. Some of them were already placed under criminal investigation and awaiting prosecution. While out of government positions and facing criminal prosecution, these group aligned with the former vice president Riek Machar who was also fired from his government position and then started to mount serious opposition against President Salva Kiir. Such opposition only grew deadlier when on fateful night of December 15, 2013, it went violent, continuing to this day with no end in sight.
There is also a doubt as to whether Riek Machar, a de facto leader of the rebels can certainly claim alliance with those detained prisoners. According to American envoy who visited these prisoners, they denounced violence as a means of removing government as oppose to Riek Machar who subscribes into violent means.
It is important to remember that a lasting peace after such much damage caused must entail justice and accountability against those responsible. Instead, countries like America suppose to advocate for speedy legal proceeding of the detained individuals as oppose to taking rebels position, undermining the government of South Sudan and stalling the peace process on track.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org