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
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
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
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
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.