News / Africa

Uganda says Region Ready to Take On, Defeat S. Sudan Rebel Leader

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni (front R) arrives for the Heads of States and Governments International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in Nairobi July 31, 2013.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni (front R) arrives for the Heads of States and Governments International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in Nairobi July 31, 2013.
Uganda's president said on Monday the nations of East Africa had agreed to move in to defeat South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar if he rejected a ceasefire offer, threatening to turn an outburst of ethnic fighting into a regional conflict.
Hours after President Yoweri Museveni's ultimatum, rebels and the feared “White Army” militia clashed against government troops just outside Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, officials said.
They said the government side was braced for a “full-scale” attack on the town, seized by rebels for several days earlier this month and the site of an ethnic massacre in 1991. Thousands of civilians had fled for the surrounding swamps.
Two weeks of clashes have already killed at least 1,000 people in the world's newest nation, unnerved oil markets and raised fears of a civil war in a region ravaged by fighting in Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We gave Riek Machar four days to respond [to the ceasefire offer] and if he doesn't we shall have to go for him, all of us,” Museveni told reporters in South Sudan's capital, Juba, referring to a Dec. 31 deadline.
Asked what that meant, Museveni said: “to defeat him”.
He did not spell out whether South Sudan's neighbors had actually agreed to send troops to join the conflict that erupted in Juba on Dec. 15.
But his words underlined the scale of regional concern over the fighting that has spread to South Sudan's oil-producing states - often along ethnic lines, between Machar's group, the Nuer, and President Salva Kiir's Dinka.
Past conflicts in South Sudan have sent refugees pouring over its borders and spurred on rebels in neighboring countries, including the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.
There was no immediate confirmation of the pact to take on Machar from other East African countries, which have been trying to mediate and last week gave the sides until Dec. 31 to lay down their weapons.
Kenya's presidential spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, said it would be inappropriate to comment until the deadline has passed. Machar himself did not respond to calls.
Information Minister Michael Makuei said the rebels want to take Bor ahead of the deadline so Machar “can talk from a position of strength” once peace talks start.
“This is why he has been intransigent,” Makuei said.
Fighting Displaces 180,000
The United Nations, Washington, and other Western countries that have poured hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into South Sudan since it won its independence from Sudan in 2011 have also scrambled to stem the unrest.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has had regular contact with regional leaders and spoken almost daily to both Kiir and Machar since Dec. 20 to push for a ceasefire, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“What we have said is there is no place for violence here and the sides need to take a step back and move towards a mediated negotiated political dialog,” Harf said.
Meanwhile, U.S. special envoy to South Sudan, Donald Booth, was in Juba on Monday “attempting to work with both President Kiir and former Vice President Machar to finalize details of a political dialog and arrange for negotiations to begin in coming days,” Harf added.
“It is a very complicated and tenuous situation,” she said, adding that 400 U.S. official and private citizens had been evacuated from South Sudan since the trouble erupted.
Fighting has displaced at least 180,000 people, including 75,000 seeking refuge inside U.N. bases across the country, according to U.N. figures.
Falling global oil prices have been kept in check by fears there could be further cuts to output in South Sudan, which BP says holds the third-largest oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa after Angola and Nigeria.
South Sudan's oil production has fallen by nearly a fifth to 200,000 barrels per day after oilfields in Unity state were shut last week due to the fighting.
Control Risks analyst Paul Gabriel said Museveni's words were probably aimed at pressing Machar to join talks, rather than a threat of imminent intervention.
There was currently little regional appetite to get involved in the fighting, though “that might change quickly if there is a situation where Juba or President Kiir is threatened,” Gabriel added.
Kiir sacked his longtime political rival Machar in July and then accused him of starting the December fighting to try to seize power.
Machar denied that charge, but has since retreated into the bush and acknowledged he is leading rebel fighters. He has responded coolly to the ceasefire offer and the army, the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) has said it has continued to fight his soldiers.
“White Army” Threat
“The SPLA forces in Bor town are on maximum alert,” SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said on Monday night after skirmishes with the Nuer “White Army” militia just outside the town.
The White Army - made up of Nuer youths who dust their bodies in white ash - has in the past sided with Machar.
But a spokesman for the government of South Sudan's Unity state, now controlled by forces loyal to Machar, on Sunday denied Machar was in control of the White Army fighters, raising the prospect that the violence was spreading beyond the control of widely recognized ethnic leaders.
Thousands of civilians have fled from Bor over the past few days, crossing the White Nile river and heading for the swamps, Makuei told Reuters. Nuer militias massacred Dinkas in Bor during an outburst of ethnic fighting in 1991.
“They [the White Army] have attacked the village of Mathiang [18 miles (30 km) from Bor], killing civilians and burning civilian houses down. They are butchering civilians,” said Bor's mayor, Nhial Majak Nhial, from the town, 190 km [120 miles] north of Juba.
Nhial said he was urging civilians to escape Bor as the White Army militia neared.
The reports of clashes and advances came from remote areas largely inaccessible to journalists and it was not possible to verify them independently.
Tribal elders over the weekend persuaded many of the Nuer youths advancing on Bor to abandon their march, but officials said about 5,000 refused to turn

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs