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A look at South Sudan, a young country divided by civil war

11 July 2016, 11:04

Johannesburg – Renewed fighting between opposing army forces has raised fears of a return to civil war in South Sudan, which over the weekend marked its fifth anniversary of independence while panicked residents hid inside their homes.

Aside from the scores of soldiers killed after gunfire erupted late Friday outside the presidential compound, at least one civilian died in a UN camp caught in the crossfire. At least one UN peacekeeper was killed and several wounded.

Here is a look at the situation for the estimated 12 million people in the East African country:

A fight for independence

Largely Christian South Sudan won its independence from Sudan, a largely Muslim country, in 2011 after years of fighting. The new country's emergence was cheered by countries including the United States.

With oil resources supporting its young economy, optimism was high. But tensions eventually emerged between the country's top leaders, President Salva Kiir and his vice president, Riek Machar, and supporters of each.

The civil war

In December 2013, soldiers loyal to either side skirmished in the capital, Juba, and the fighting spread to other parts of the country. The violence was especially worrying to the international community because of the ethnic tensions involved, as many supporters of the president were Dinka and supporters of Machar, now a rebel leader, were mostly Nuer.

As fighting raged on well into 2015, tens of thousands of people were reported killed, and an estimated 2 million people had fled their homes. Meanwhile, the UN and others warned repeatedly of a humanitarian disaster as the civil war made it all but impossible to deliver aid to many areas of the country.

Troops on both sides have been accused of horrific human rights abuses, including gang rape and murder of civilians along ethnic lines. A UN panel of experts has said Kiir and Machar themselves bear command responsibility for troops who allegedly committed crimes.

A fragile peace deal

Last August, after intense pressure from the international community, Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal that called for a two-year transitional government of ministers and parliamentarians from the two sides before new elections.

But fighting continued in parts of the country even as the fragile deal moved forward. In April, Machar returned to the capital to again take up the post of vice president, saying that "peace is the only choice for us to relieve our people the undeserved suffering associated with armed conflict enforced upon them."

Fighting erupts again

South Sudan's opposing army factions have been stationed in Juba since April as part of the peace deal. They are meant to hold joint patrols but have yet to work together and remain stationed in separate areas.

On Thursday, soldiers from the opposing factions exchanged gunfire in the capital, leaving five soldiers dead. A day later, as Kiir and Machar met at the presidential compound about the incident, heavy gunfire began outside and soon spread to other parts of the city.

The fighting continued on and off during the weekend and started afresh on Monday morning, even after Kiir and Machar issued a joint call for calm.

Some international organisations and businesses have started evacuating workers from South Sudan, a further blow to its severely weakened economy. The International Monetary Fund this month said its currency has depreciated by almost 90% since December.

- AP


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