South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit told his security officials on Friday to prepare to defend the country from aggression from neighbouring Sudan, shortly before heading to a summit in Ethiopia with his Sudanese counterpart, according to sources at the meetings.
|South Sudanese President Salva Kiir|
Kiir called on the country’s citizens to mobilise against the ground and air attacks carried out against strategic border territories of Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal states over the past few days.
A senior government source told Sudan Tribune that Kiir gave the briefing before heading to the scheduled meeting with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in Addis Ababa later on Friday in an internationally-backed summit aiming to end the stalemate over creating a buffer zone to prevent a repeat of the conflict in April last year.
Implementation of the security elements of a Cooperation Agreement signed in September could unlock other parts of the deal, such as allowing southern oil exports to resume, which is desperately needed for both economies.
However, following the recent border attacks over the past two weeks, the atmosphere of mistrust that so often scuppers these meetings is likely to persist, despite both sides indicating that they could make compromises.
Having fought for two decades against Bashir’s government - until a 2005 peace deal secured a self determination vote for South Sudan in 2011 - Kiir said that he believed his nation would "never be scared" of the Sudanese military "building troops and huge movement of weapons along the contested areas".
Over the past weeks, South Sudan’s army (SPLA) has accused the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) of attacking its territory and attempting to occupy contested areas along the largely un-demarcated, oil-rich and fertile border.
South Sudan has complained to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) over a series of bombings and ground clashes, which culminated on Wednesday with an SAF attack on Western Bahr el Ghazal. Military sources have told Sudan Tribune that over 32 soldiers and civilians were killed in the coordinated air and ground raid.
Kiir described the attack on Kitkit military base, 119km north of Raja town, as part of continued aggression by the Sudanese government. The border attacks were an attempt by Sudan to give Bashir a better bargaining position at the talks, Kiir said in comments on Wednesday.
The South Sudanese military say the 2 January attack followed a clash with the Sudanese Armed Forces - aided by the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) a Sudanese paramilitary and armed tribesmen on horseback - on Saturday 29 December in the Sirmalaka area of Western Bahr el Ghazal’s Raja County.
South Sudan also claimed at least five people were killed by SAF air and ground attacks on a contested border area between Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Sudan’s western Darfur region on 26 December.
The Sudanese army has denied attacking the Kiir Adem area of Mile 14, but admitted that clashes occurred between the SPLA and Al-Rizigat tribesmen in the disputed region.
Khartoum routinely denies bombing southern territory often blaming tribal clashes or saying that it only attacks rebels moving across the border into Sudan from South Sudan. Juba also denies hosting or aiding Sudanese rebels and, conversely, accuses Sudan of supporting South Sudanese rebel groups in its territory.
"We will keep talking with Sudan and we will also have the right to protect our territories. The SPLA will do this. It is your duty”, Kiir told high level security officers on Friday.
The president reportedly assured South Sudan’s security organs that his negotiating team in Addis Ababa was capable of representing the country on “all fronts” and that citizens should not have doubts about their ability to do what was is in the country’s best interest.
Pagan Amum, South Sudan’s lead negotiator arrived in the Ethiopian capital ahead of Kiir to prepare the ground for discussions on the implementation of the Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in September under mediation from the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP).
“They are capable on all three fronts. We have made progress on diplomatic, political and military and we will continue our efforts unabated until there is victory and definitive and durable peace for us," Kiir said.
The South Sudan leader also added that South Sudan wishes to find peaceful solutions for the issues between the two countries and implement the Cooperation Agreement signed in September, which covers many of the outstanding issues between the two nations.
The September deal had appeared to make progress on oil, citizenship and border security but it has not been implemented due to differences over security issues - both sides accuse the other of backing the other’s rebels. South Sudan has accused Sudan of adding "impossible’ new demands to the security deal, including disarming rebels north of the border that fought with the south during the 1983-2005 civil war.
"We have shown the whole world that we are peace loving people, but I know there are people who have taken it as our weakness. It has been misunderstood to extent that the attitude and actions of those who repeatedly make war prove that only a strong army will keep our dignity and safeguards the territorial integrity of our country," Kiir reportedly told members of his security team.
REFORM TO DIFFUSE SOUTH SUDAN’S DISSENTING VOICES
The South Sudan leader has vowed to implement reforms to unify the country and to diffuse internal tensions and growing criticisms of his government.
He said the vision of his government for the year 2013 is to “reform institutions” and that he expects security organs to do a lot to restore trust and public confidence in their daily activities in the country.
The former-rebel-movement-turned-ruling-party the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has governed South Sudan as an autonomous region of Sudan since a 2005 peace deal was signed with Khartoum, but has struggled to bring the security, development and peace dividends many South Sudanese were hoping for.
Facing the daunting challenge of building the infrastructure of a nation almost from scratch, and with a population where less the 30% of adults are literate, developing the country was always going to prove difficult.
South Sudan gained full independence in July 2011, but has had to contend with rebellions, cattle raids between ethnic groups and the threat of a return to war with Sudan over outstanding issues from their divorce.