There has been tension in South Sudan over recent clashes between the government and rebel forces, which is putting a strain on the country’s fragile peace agreements and could jeopardize government response to the ongoing pandemic.

A spokesman for the rebel National Salvation Front said a joint force composed of soldiers from the army and the former rebel SPLM-IO attacked NAS position in Central Equatoria state on Sunday 26th April 2020, leading to clashes ever since.

“They went and attacked our bases in Senema, that is around Ombaci, and also in Mediba around Morobo, and in Kajo-Keji Kala 2. They also attacked our forces, and we responded,” NAS spokesman Samuel Suba told Voice of America’s South Sudan in Focus.

According to Suba, two NAS soldiers were killed while three others were seriously injured. The casualty figure could not be verified by other sources. 

SPLM-IO deputy military spokesman Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, who also doubles as the press secretary for the country’s defense minister, said the NAF forces were the aggressors who killed one government soldier and injured three others.

The deputy military spokesman denied that a joint operation was carried out against the NAS and accused the rebel group of trying to disrupt the training and unification of forces, saying that they came and attacked the soldiers in their bases. 

While speaking with VOA, Gabriel said they were attacked in Kiju (Kajo-Keji) by the forces of Thomas Cirilo, noting that they killed two SPLM-IO soldiers and injured one. “Then, our focus withdrew from Kiju and moved to Kala. On the 26th, then, our forces were able to repulse them,” he stated.

It can be recalled that the government of President Salva Kiir and the SPLM-IO signed a peace deal in 2018 that recently led to the formation of a transitional unity government. Although NAS signed a different peace deal with the government of the country in 2019.

Such agreements have led to minimal clashes and resulted in some progress toward merging the various armed forces into a national army. However, Suba said government forces adopted a scorched-earth policy by attacking civilians and looting their property in Lainya County’s Mukaya Payam. “They did it by burning houses, beating civilians and looting, and these led to this forced displacement of over 3,000 people,” Samuel said.

Even with the peace deal, experts and diplomats predict the cycle of violence may not end, with grave socio-economic consequences. Recent conflicts in the African country have led to the displacement of roughly 4 million people, either internally displaced or fleeing to neighboring countries, according to the UN.

Considering the implications such issues could have on South Sudan’s fragile peace agreements, the government should gear up its efforts in maintaining peace and order in the country. There is an equally urgent need for the international community to intervene so as to address root causes. If this persists without action from the government, many people might be affected in terms of village attacks, food aid obstruction, mass rape, killings.

As most countries across the world continue to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it is as well critical for the African government to manage the clashes with rebel forces. The Global Humanitarian Response Plan has said that countries who are suffering from humanitarian crises, particularly vulnerable ones like South Sudan, need urgent response to look at their existing operations to see how they can be reprioritized and adapted to tackle the virus.

By Ahmed Iyanda.

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