South Sudan Opposition Try to Forge a United Front

South Sudanese opposition groups tried to forge a united front on Monday ahead of an expected resumption of peace talks, in the first such meeting since the start of their country’s civil war nearly four years ago, attendees told Reuters.

South Sudan’s civil war, triggered by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, has plunged parts of the world’s youngest nation into famine and forced a third of the population – some four million people – to flee their homes.

Representatives of South Sudan’s many armed and unarmed opposition groups met in the Kenyan town of Nyahururu, said Kosti Manibe, a former government minister who was briefly jailed and represents a group of ex-political prisoners.

“I call it like-minded groups who are opposed to the policy that the regime of Salva in (South Sudan’s capital) Juba is pursuing,” Manibe said.

The gathering, expected to last three days, comes after diplomats from the regional bloc IGAD held talks with Kiir in Juba at the weekend to press the government to participate in the planned peace talks in December.

“The opposition is speaking in a cacophony of voices. There is a need to harmonise these voices,” said Majak D‘Agoot, another member of the former prisoner group.

Manibe said Kenya’s government had “graciously allowed” the opposition groups to meet in their country, without elaborating.

Kenyan foreign affairs ministry spokesman Edwin Limo said he was not aware of the meeting.

The United Nations says South Sudan’s civil war has resulted in ethnic cleansing and other war crimes.

A Western-backed peace deal between Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar collapsed last year, spawning the creation of new armed and political groups opposing the government.

Machar’s SPLA-IO rebel group, the country’s largest which still controls swathes of territory in the south and northeast of South Sudan, declined to attend the Nyahururu meeting, according to Nathaniel Oyet, a senior member of the group, saying it may distract from the December talks.

Oyet also cited security concerns in Kenya where SPLA-IO officials have disappeared in the last year, including Machar’s spokesman who was arrested and deported to Juba in 2016.

Among those attending Monday’s meeting in Kenya were representatives of former army general Thomas Cirillo, who is waging an insurgency in the southern region of South Sudan, and other former government officials Lam Akol, Gabriel Changson, and Joseph Bakosoro, all of whom live in exile.

South Sudanese government officials were unavailable for comment on the Kenya meeting.

Amnesty International Exposes Illicit $46m South Sudan Arms Deal

People walk along a street in Juba

London- Amnesty International exposed in a recent research how a shell company in the heart of London’s West End acted as an intermediary in huge prospective arms deals to war-torn South Sudan and other countries, thanks to regulatory gaps which are making the UK a hotspot for companies involved in illicit arms transfers.

Commercial documents name S-Profit Ltd, a tiny UK-registered company, as the ‘supplier’ in a 2014 deal to provide at least US$46m worth of small arms, light weapons, and ammunition to the South Sudanese government. The report, From London to Juba: a UK-registered company’s role in one of the largest arms deals to South Sudan, also reveals that the UK government has been aware of similar practices taking place on British soil for more than eight years, without taking effective regulatory action.

“South Sudan is awash with weapons that have been used to kill and maim thousands of civilians, causing Africa’s biggest refugee crisis. The UK government has been a vocal proponent of a UN arms embargo on South Sudan, yet is turning a blind eye to illegal deals taking place right under its nose,” said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s Head of Arms Control and Human Rights.

“Glaring gaps in UK company regulation mean a dealer of illicit arms can go online and set up a UK company to front its activities with fewer checks than joining a gym or hiring a car. The UK must urgently review its company registration procedures – right now it provides the perfect conditions to become a hotspot for the kind of irresponsible arms transfers that have devastated South Sudan.”

The weapons in question form part of a previously undisclosed 2014 contract between a Ukrainian state arms company and a UAE-based company to procure US$169m of weapons on behalf of South Sudan. These include thousands of machine guns, mortars, RPGs and millions of rounds of ammunition.

If fulfilled, the total deal would constitute one of the largest publicly disclosed arms transfers to South Sudan since the outbreak of fighting in December 2013.

Amnesty International has not been able to determine whether some or all of the weapons listed in these documents have yet been delivered to South Sudan. However, a UK company may violate UK export control laws even by being involved in the negotiation of an arms deal to South Sudan. The involvement of the Ukrainian state-owned arms company and a UAE private company in weapons supplies to South Sudan also potentially contravenes the Ukraine and UAE’s obligations as signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty.

S-Profit’s director –a Ukrainian national based outside the UK – denied to Amnesty International that the firm had supplied military products to South Sudan, but has not responded to further questions, including whether it played an intermediary role.

Amnesty International affirmed that it has provided UK authorities with the documents and information it has obtained. The report also reveals that the UK government has, for more than eight years, been aware of UK shell companies being used unlawfully as contract vehicles for weapons dealers to supply arms to human rights violators and embargoed destinations including Syria, Eritrea and South Sudan. Yet, the UK has made no regulatory changes to address these gaps.

Meanwhile, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit said he was not happy about the ongoing civil war and suffering of citizens in the country.

“I am not really happy. I can be seen to be happy but hurting inside. How can I be happy when I see my people suffering? People are starving and dying in criminal actions and battles.” Kiir said in an interview with SSBC on Friday.

“Being the leader I must put a brave face where I can be seen to be happy but I am not happy,” he added.

Kiir pointed out that the national dialogue is a hope that will reunite the people of South Sudan address grievances which were not tackled by the 2015 peace accord.

The world’s youngest nation has been embroiled in a violent conflict since 2013, when a split between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, escalated into outright civil war.

The devastating conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions that have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

US Journalist among 19 Killed in South Sudan Fighting

A United States citizen working in South Sudan as a freelance journalist was among 19 people killed on Saturday during fighting between government troops and rebels in Yei River state, the rebels and the military said.

Christopher Allen, who worked for various news outlets, was killed in heavy fighting in the town of Kaya. South Sudan has been convulsed by conflict since late 2013, pitting President Salva Kiir’s troops against those of rebel leader Riek Machar.

“On the ground, about 16 (bodies) have been found around the defensive position of the SPLA including this white man,” Santo Domic Chol, a military spokesman, told Reuters. Three government soldiers were also killed, he said.

The rebels identified him as Allen, who had been embedded with them for the past week.

“We are sad for his family. He came here to tell our story,” said one rebel who knew Allen. He asked not to be named but said Allen had been in the middle of the fighting and wearing a jacket marked PRESS.

Chol said the rebels had attacked an army base in Kaya but they were repulsed after an hour-long fight.

The US government did not respond immediately when Reuters sought comment.

The country spiraled into civil war, with fighting along ethnic lines, after Kiir sacked Machar in late 2013.

A peace accord was signed in August 2015 and Machar returned to the capital in April last year to share power with Kiir, before the deal fell apart less than three months later and Machar and his supporters fled the capital.

The conflict has forced about 4 million people to flee their homes. Uganda currently hosts more than a million South Sudanese refugees, while over 330,000 have fled to neighboring Ethiopia.

Malaria Kills over 4,000 People in South Sudan

Malaria

London – The Malaria disease is spread in an “unprecedented” level in South Sudan, killing thousands in the past six months, revealed an official in the health ministry.

Isaac Maber told Asharq Al-Awsat that at least 4,000 people have died from Malaria since February, with over 900,000 also being infected.

He revealed that his ministry, with the cooperation of the United Nations, has formed an emergency room to combat the disease, calling for donations to help them in their fight.

He said that some 2,000 people died from malaria in July and 250 died in August.

The lack of necessary medical resources and medicine has led to the spread of the disease.

Furthermore, he warned of a spike in infection in fall when mosquitoes that carry the disease increase.

He called on the government to take emergency measures to stop the infection, describing the situation as “dangerous and unprecedented.”

Number of Global Displaced up to 65.6 Million in 2016

Devastating conflicts, violence and persecution in places like Syria and South Sudan had left a record 65.6 million people uprooted from their homes last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Monday.

That number that includes refugees, asylum seekers and people uprooted inside their own countries marks a jump of just 300,000 from the end of 2015, but is more than six million higher than at the end of 2014, according to a fresh report published by the UNHCR in Geneva.

This is “the highest figure since we started recording these figures,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi told reporters ahead of the report launch.

“By any measure, this is an unacceptable number, and it speaks louder than ever to the need for solidarity and common purpose in preventing and resolving crises,” he said.

The figures released ahead of World Refugee Day showed that a full 10.3 million of the world’s displaced people fled their homes last year alone, including 3.4 million who crossed international borders to become refugees.

“This equates to one person becoming displaced every three seconds — less than the time it takes to read this sentence,” UNHCR pointed out in a statement.

Most people who have been forced from their homes flee within their own country, and are defined as internally displaced people, or IDPs.

At the end of 2016, there were some 40.3 million IDPs in the world, down slightly from 40.8 million a year earlier, with Syria, Iraq and Colombia accounting for the greatest numbers.

Another 22.5 million people — half of them children — were registered as refugees last year, the UNHCR report showed, pointing out that this is “the highest level ever recorded”.

Syria’s six-year conflict alone has sent more than 5.5 million people seeking safety in other countries, including 825,000 last year alone, making it the world’s biggest producer of refugees.

Along with the 6.3 million Syrians displaced inside the country, these numbers show that a nearly two thirds of all Syrians have been forced from their homes, the report said.

The Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 320,000 people, “is becoming a forgotten crisis,” Grandi warned.

The UN refugee chief meanwhile voiced most alarm over the rapidly deteriorating situation in South Sudan, which he said was currently the world’s “fastest growing refugee crisis and displacement crisis.”

South Sudan’s civil war, which began in December 2013, has left tens of thousands dead and forced a total of 3.7 million people from their homes — nearly a third of the population.

Overall, the refugee population from the world’s youngest country swelled 85 percent last year to reach 1.4 million by the end of 2016, the UNHCR report showed.

And that number has ballooned by a further half million people since then, the agency said, stressing the most of the refugees had left since the “disastrous breakdown of peace efforts” last July.

Syria and South Sudan were far from the only countries where people were being uprooted en masse, with Monday’s report also pointing to large-scale displacement in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

And nearly 70 years after Palestinians first fled today’s Israel, some 5.3 million Palestinians are currently living as refugees — the highest level ever recorded, UNHCR said.

The figures are based on the agency’s own data and on numbers reported by governments and non-governmental organizations.

Sudanese FM: No Country will Force us to Act against Egypt’s Interests

Cairo – Sudan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ibrahim Ghandour underlined the “very special and strategic ties” with Egypt, despite some tensions that surfaced lately between the two countries.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in Cairo on Sunday, Ghandour said that the two African states have agreed to resolve any issues that could threaten bilateral relations, stressing that no country “could use the Sudanese territories to harm Egypt or even Libya.”

The Sudanese official noted that during his recent meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, an agreement was reached on the need to maintain constant communication between the two countries’ various institutions, in order to overcome any misunderstanding.

Asked whether a third party was trying to spark tensions between Sudan and Egypt, Ghandour said: “All over the world, there are hidden parties that do not wish to see stable relations between countries.”

“There is certainly someone who is seeking to instigate conflicts, but I came here to say that the relations between our two states are sacred and we should avoid distorting them,” he added.

On whether Qatar was using Sudan to harm Egypt, the Sudanese foreign minister said: “I read such claims in the Egyptian media; but in reality this is not true.”

“Sudan’s relations with Egypt do not make room for any interference,” he noted, adding: “We cannot allow any party to push us to harm Egypt’s interests, safety or stability.”

Ghandour said that talks during his meetings have focused on security cooperation in light of the attack on African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur.

He noted that his country was keen on the formation of joint border security forces between Egypt, Sudan and Libya to promote security along the borders and counter the infiltration of terrorist groups.

He highlighted in this regard Sudan’s “successful experience with Chad”, adding that his country would also implement this security strategy with Ethiopia.

On Libya, Ghandour said it was obvious that Egypt supports Army Commander Khalifa Haftar, while Sudan is cooperating with the UN-backed national unity government.

“Consequently, we have agreed with our brothers in Egypt that the Libyan crisis should be resolved by the Libyan people themselves and that there was no alternative for an intra-Libyan dialogue to resolve the current problems,” he stated.

Asked about relations with South Sudan, Ghandour said that the two states were holding regular meetings under the umbrella of the African Union to address security and defense matters.

The foreign minister stressed the need to end the war and achieve peace in South Sudan.

“We are ready to cooperate on all levels,” he stated.

UN Troops Face Obstacles in South Sudan

Some eight months after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of an extra 4,000 peacekeepers to war-torn South Sudan, the first of those troops have just trickled in amid bureaucratic hurdles by the country’s reluctant government.

“Meanwhile the situation in the country has deteriorated at a rapid pace,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a monthly report on the status of the deployment and obstacles facing some 13,000 peacekeepers already on the ground.

The 15-member Security Council approved the additional troops – known as a regional protection force (RPF) – in August, following several days of heavy fighting in the capital Juba between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing former Vice President Riek Machar.

The force is part of the UN peacekeeping mission known as UNMISS, which has been in South Sudan since its independence from Sudan in 2011. The country spiraled into civil war – with violence along ethnic lines – after Kiir sacked Machar in 2013.

“Deployment of some of the first wave elements of the RPF … has begun,” Guterres told the Security Council in a report, seen by Reuters on Thursday.

“It is indeed unfortunate that the first troops associated with the RPF have only begun to arrive eight months after they were initially mandated by the Security Council,” Guterres wrote.

Meanwhile, the UN human rights office said on Friday that South Sudanese pro government forces killed at least 114 civilians in and around Yei town between July 2016 and January 2017, as well as committing uncounted rapes, looting and torture.

“Attacks were committed with an alarming degree of brutality and, like elsewhere in the country, appeared to have an ethnic dimension,” a report on the UN investigation said.

“These cases included attacks on funerals and indiscriminate shelling of civilians; cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those fleeing fighting; often committed in front of the victims’ families.”

South Sudan army spokesperson Col. Santo Domic Chol told Reuters that the report was “baseless”.

But the report said: “In view of the restrictions of access faced by (the UN), the number of documented cases may only be a fraction of those actually committed. Some of the human rights violations and abuses committed in and around Yei may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity and warrant further investigation.”

UN: $1.4 bn Needed to Address Famine in South Sudan in 2017

Sudan

United Nations agencies made an appeal on Monday for at least 1.4 billion that is needed to help those fleeing war and famine in South Sudan.

The agencies increased their 2017 appeal for South Sudan’s refugees, saying they needed at least $1.4 billion to help alleviate “unimaginable” levels of suffering.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the World Food Program (WFP) had earlier asked for $1.2 billion to support more than 1.8 million people fleeing fighting. But even that was only 14 percent funded, the agencies said in a joint statement.

“The suffering of the South Sudanese people is just unimaginable … They are close to the abyss,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said.

The UNHCR refugee agency and the WFP presented an updated response plan to the crisis in appealing for nearly double the $781 million they had previously said they needed.

“Bitter conflict and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in South Sudan are driving people from their homes in record numbers,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, fell into a brutal civil war in December 2013, just two years after it spilt from the north.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the country since then, with some 1.8 million forced to flee the country, including about one million children, to seek refuge in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Another two million have been displaced inside the country, but they are not covered by Monday’s appeal.

The country has declared famine in some areas and has warned that a million people are on the brink of starvation.

“Aid workers often cannot reach the most vulnerable hungry people. Many are dying from hunger and disease, many more have fled their homeland for safety abroad,” Beasley said, adding that many are “close to the abyss.”

The UN said people were now fleeing South Sudan at a rate that far exceeded already pessimistic estimates.

“The number of people fleeing to Sudan in March surpassed the expected figure for the entire year,” it said, with about 375,000 South Sudanese refugees now in the country.

Ethiopia is hosting the same number, while the situation in Uganda is even more dire, with nearly 900,000 refugees from South Sudan in that country.

Kenya counts about 97,000 South Sudanese refugees, DR Congo has 76,000 and the Central African Republic has 2,200.

Aid agencies are struggling to secure the funds they need to help the refugees, making it difficult to provide food, water, shelter and health services.

So far, only 14 percent of the initial $781 million appeal for 2017 has been provided.

“Our funding situation forced us to cut food rations for many refugees in Uganda,” Beasley said, a situation he called “unacceptable”.

“These are families like yours and mine, our brothers and sisters, and the world must help them now — not later,” he said.

South Sudan Vice President Survives Assassination Attempt

London- South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng Gai survived an attempted assassination on Tuesday when a group of gunmen attacked his convoy en route to the capital Juba.

Deng Gai went unharmed. However, three of his bodyguards were wounded.

“Unidentified gunmen have opened heavy fire after laying an ambush. Bodyguards took shield outside the car, but three of them were wounded,” a military officer, who requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The convoy came under attack as it headed north from Juba to the town of Bor.

“Three people were wounded. These are security guards of the first vice president,” said State Minister of Information Jacob Akech Deng. “No soldier died and the convoy of the first vice president has reached Bor safely.”

Deng Gai, who joined the government last year, was not in the convoy because he was traveling by plane at the time, Deng said.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, erupted into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy Riek Machar.

The fighting that followed split the country along ethnic lines, spurred hyper-inflation and plunged parts of the nation into famine, creating Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

The warring sides signed an internationally-backed peace deal in 2015 and Machar was again sworn in as vice president, only for a new round of warfare to erupt that forced Machar to flee Juba in July last year.

Kiir subsequently replaced Machar with Deng Gai, a former chief opposition negotiator who broke ranks with Machar but was not able to persuade a large number of rebels to follow suit.

Machar’s group, the country’s biggest rebel force and known as the SPLA-In Opposition, was not immediately available for comment.

UN Says Next British Govt. Should Do More for Refugees Escaping Conflict

London

The United Nations refugee agency called on Monday the next British government to “do the right thing” when it comes to refugees, saying it can do more to help them.

The UNHCR representative to the UK, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, said the new government should increase resettlement quotas, reunite more refugees with family in the UK and cut the number of detained asylum seekers.

“Britain has a rich history of welcoming those forced to flee, and UNHCR urges the next government to do the right thing and ensure a fair and equal treatment for all refugees,” Llosa wrote in an editorial for The Times newspaper on Monday.

General elections in Britain are set for June 8.

Llosa said the UK should resettle 10,000 refugees a year from war-torn regions, instead of the current pledge to receive 20,000 Syrians and 3,000 vulnerable child migrants by 2020. UNHCR said 1.2 million refugees are in need of resettlement globally from host countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya and Tanzania.

“Resettlement not only benefits needy refugees. It also helps to relieve a small part of the burden on those developing countries which have for years been sheltering millions of refugees,” Llosa said.

In 2016, 65.3 million people were uprooted from their homes around the world, and among them, nearly 21.3 million refugees, the UNHCR says.

He said refugees were also suffering unnecessarily from Britain’s “restrictive and complex” family reunification process, which only lets children under 18 reunite with their parents. Refugee children in the UK are also unable to sponsor their parents or siblings, according to the British Red Cross.

Llosa called for Britain to cut the number of asylum seekers in detention and to integrate them into the community under supervision.

There were about 123,000 refugees and 45,870 asylum seekers in the UK by the end of 2015, according to UNHCR.

Earlier on Monday, two United Nations agencies announced that more than 1 million children have fled South Sudan’s civil war, part of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Another 1 million South Sudanese children are displaced within the country, having fled their homes due to the civil war, said the UN’s child and refugee agencies in a statement.

“The future of a generation is truly on the brink,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The horrifying fact that nearly one in five children in South Sudan has been forced to flee their home illustrates how devastating this conflict has been for the country’s most vulnerable.”

Roughly 62 percent of refugees from South Sudan are children, according to the UN statement, and more than 75,000 children are alone or without their families. Roughly 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan in total.

“No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan,” said Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Africa Bureau Director. “That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.”

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 and has killed tens of thousands of people. South Sudan is now the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Elsewhere, over 500 migrants who were trying to cross the Mediterranean in several small boats that were in danger of capsizing have been rescued at sea, a Spanish aid organization.

Proactiva Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza said on Sunday that the Golfo Azzurro, a former fishing trawler the group operates, plucked 514 migrants from over a dozen rubber and wooden boats during a 24-hour period from Saturday to Sunday morning.

The people rescued were refugees fleeing the war in Syria and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who had set sail from Libya, according to Lanuza.

The Golfo Azzurro was operating as part of an NGO rescue fleet coordinated by the Italian coast guard.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats in hopes of a better life in Europe, but thousands die each year trying. Libya is one of the prime launching points.

On Saturday, a Spanish navy frigate rescued another 651 migrants off the coast of Libya.