March 27, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan president Salva Kiir on Thursday pledged to spearhead a genuine national reconciliation process, stressing his administration had demonstrated commitment to bring peace in the young nation.
- South Sudan President Salva Kiir has denied forming a private army, saying a youth-driven reserve force was a justified line of defence (AP)
In mid-December, South Sudan was plunged into a security, political and humanitarian crisis when tension within the ruling party (SPLM) led to clashes between soldiers loyal to rival factions.
Riek Machar, South Sudan’s former vice president, denies instigating a coup but has since assumed leadership of a coalition of armed civilians and army defectors, who are mainly from Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.
The conflict has reopened old political and ethnic wounds. Despite the roots of the violence being a disagreement within the ruling SPLM being political, much of the violence has taken place between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer ethnic groups.
However, the conflict cannot be only defined through tribal identities; the head of South Sudan’s army (SPLA) is a Nuer and many in the SPLM/A in Opposition rebels are Dinka.
President Kiir’s comments came while addressing a delegation from the Warrap State legislative assembly, led by General Bona Bak Dhel.
The MPs from Kiir’s home state were sent by the state parliament’s speaker "with a very special message of peace and to congratulate our president for demonstrating a strong leadership during crisis", Bak told reporters after the meeting.
Warrap state has been relatively unaffected by the crisis, hosting only 13,100 of the 708,900 people the UN estimates to have been displaced by the conflict.
Bak said that the rebels were wrong to frame the conflict in terms of tribal differences.
"Riek Machar and his group had wanted to overthrow the democratically elected government but when they failed they resorted to blackmailing the public and started spreading false messages, claiming what happened was a tribal conflict so that they could get support from innocent people to fight for them," Bak told reporters on Thursday.
South Sudanese forces in the capital, Juba, targeted Nuer civilians in the first days of the conflict according to eyewitnesses and human rights reports, while defected soldiers have also attacked Dinka civilians in other parts of the country.
General Bak, who has long been an ally of president Kiir, said the head of state had expressed commitment and pledged to personally lead genuine reconciliation and to resume talks between the two sides.
Talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa have made no progress since a ceasefire deal was signed in late January. Both sides have violated the agreement.
According to Bak, Kiir expressed his personal commitment and desire to bring about genuine reconciliation in "our South Sudan way".
There are "wounds and bruises" in the country that need healing, he said.
He called on the media to try as much as they can to reduce divergence, avoid sensationalism, invention and only report objectively what transpires in the country.
South Sudan’s interior minister has previously ordered South Sudanese journalists not to speak to the rebels, who were in early December still part of the ruling SPLM and the South Sudanese army (SPLA).
"The president acknowledges the importance of the media role during such situation and I agree with him that the media should be collaborative and facilitative, monitorial and also play the watchdog part," Bak quoted president Kiir as saying.
According to Bak, the president called on media houses to create special desks in their newsrooms to cover the negotiations in Addis Ababa, advising that they should be staffed by senior journalists well versed with conflict management reporting.