New South Sudan rebel group threatens tenuous peace

Terrorism | Fighting in remote town leaves residents questioning the government’s ability to keep them safe
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/30/16, 09:10 am

Residents of a South Sudanese town remain too scared to return home after a battle between a new rebel group and government troops left more than 43 people dead and several homes destroyed. The new rebel group emerged only a few months after the transitional government took power, raising questions about its ability to restore peace in the faction-split country.

The battle on Friday and Saturday in Wau left some 39 civilians and four police officers dead. Many people are still searching for family members who fled during the conflict. Displaced residents sought shelter at churches, with aid groups, and on the local UN base.

John Frederick, a Wau resident, said his home burned as he took shelter in a church compound.

“Many people have been killed,” Frederick said. “If the new governor doesn’t come and address us and assure us about our security, I will never return.”

Wau Mayor Akol Akol Agith used posters and public statements to assure residents of their safety. Agith said authorities have deployed police and military forces to secure the town.

Ali Tamim, a militia leader and former politician, started the rebel group that now has some 700 members. South Sudan’s information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, said the group, driven by an Islamic fundamentalist agenda, includes former government troops, fighters from the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Sudanese militia, Janjaweed. Despite the ongoing crisis, the South Sudan Council of Churches encouraged people to remain hopeful as it called on the government to take action.

“Since its outbreak, we have been deeply disturbed and aware of the suffering that the recent and intolerable fighting has brought,” the council said in a statement yesterday. “We encourage our people not to lose hope.”

Conflict-torn South Sudan in April created a transitional government under a United Nations peace deal after several months of delay. Riek Machar resumed his role as vice president and a new cabinet resumed office. Ebrahim Deen, with the Afro Middle East Center in South Africa, explained the international community’s attention could keep the new rebel group from rising to the level of a national problem. But South Sudan will remain split between several ethnic and tribal factions unless the problem is addressed directly, Deen added.

“We need to stop the violence—that’s where the peace agreement is good,” Deen said. “But we need to start looking at reconciliation between the different factions. These are things you do through local amendments.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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