South Sudan’s troubled ruling party seeks unity, with help

3 May 2018

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, left, and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir shake hands outside the presidential palace in Juba, South Sudan Thursday, May 3, 2018. Link to image

South Sudan’s troubled ruling party is trying to pull itself together ahead of a new round of peace talks on the country’s civil war, with high-profile assistance from Egypt and Uganda.

The attendance on Thursday of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at a special party conference came amid reported friction inside the administration of South Sudan President Salva Kiir.

Kiir has faced recent calls for his resignation as international frustration rises with the five-year civil war in the East African nation that has left tens of thousands dead and created Africa’s largest refugee crisis in years.

Kiir’s administration has been marked by the departures of several high-profile officials who accused their former colleagues of blocking the path to peace and profiting from the conflict.

The ruling party said even the opposition had been invited to its conference this week, but the opposition refused. The warring sides are expected to attend the next round of peace talks mediated by a regional bloc in neighboring Ethiopia starting May 17.

“There comes a point where leaders must rise above challenges and turn crisis into opportunity,” Kiir told the gathering.

Uganda’s president warned people not to make the mistake of pushing South Sudan into a vacuum by asking Kiir to step down. He urged South Sudan’s leaders to embrace dialogue “whatever the political differences.”

Museveni, whose country has taken in well over 1 million refugees fleeing South Sudan’s fighting, also called on members of Kiir’s administration to show restraint among themselves, saying that “force is reserved for the enemy.”

Conflict experts said they viewed the party’s attempt at unification with skepticism.

“It’s a smoke screen and a public relations recovery exercise. It’s futile because when they come together they loot and when they disagree they kill,” Jacob Chol, professor of comparative politics at the University of Juba, told The Associated Press.

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UN official: UN backs talks, not elections in South Sudan

3 May 2018

The United Nations opposes a plan by South Sudan’s government to move to elections if warring parties are unable to reconcile differences at peace talks now scheduled to start on May 17, the UN’s deputy peacekeeping chief said on Wednesday.

Bintou Keita, who recently returned from South Sudan and Ethiopia, told reporters that high-level shuttle diplomacy is taking place to try to reduce the gap between the parties and improve prospects for success at talks that have been delayed three times since April 26.

She said it was “wise” for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional group known as IGAD, to delay resuming the High-Level Revitalisation Forum in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and acknowledge that the parties are “so far apart that there is a need to have some kind of homework” first rather than “ticking a box and saying we have had a meeting”.

With ministers, the international community and South Sudan’s government engaging in the high-level diplomacy, “I think we have a better chance” to make progress on narrowing differences, Keita said.

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighbouring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer. A peace deal signed in August 2015 didn’t stop the fighting, and a cessation of hostilities agreement this past December was broken within hours.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced over 4 million to flee their homes, more than 1.8 million of them leaving the country in what has become the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Keita said fighting is still going on, and last Friday the UN said a new surge in violence in the civil war is having a “devastating impact” on thousands of people ahead of the peace talks.

She said one element “brought into the mix” in her discussions with government officials, including South Sudan First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, was new elections as a “Plan B” if the talks fail.

Keita, the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said government officials told her elections were “another way to look at exiting … the dire situation in which the country finds itself,” and could be arranged in three to six months.

“We said, well, even in places where it is extremely well organised there is no way that you can go through all the steps of preparing elections in the conditions that we are seeing now” in South Sudan, she said.

Keita said it is clear to the UN that from the economic, political and humanitarian perspectives, South Sudan is not “a country where it is conducive right now to go through any meaningful elections as a Plan B.”

“So for us there is no Plan B,” she said. “The only plan is the High-Level Revitalisation Forum.”

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Sudan closes diplomatic missions in deep spending cuts

4 May 2018

Sudan President Omar Al Bashir. Link to image.

Khartoum – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has ordered the closure of 13 diplomatic missions and most of Sudan’s trade offices abroad, the state news agency reported late on Wednesday, in a bid to cut government spending amid serious economic woes.

Sudan has been largely cut off from international financing in the past decades by U.S. sanctions. These were lifted in October but since then Sudan has struggled to attract investors to help prop up its flagging economy.

Last month Bashir sacked Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour, one day after he asked parliament to step in and help Sudanese diplomats who had not been paid their salaries in seven months.

In his decree issued on Wednesday Bashir ordered the foreign ministry to implement a “foreign representation restructuring plan”.

It did not identify the missions that are due to close but also includes cutting staff at seven missions down to just the ambassadors, SUNA reported.

Sudan will also shut all its trade and economic offices abroad, apart from the one in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, which was kept open to finalise arrangements for Sudan’s participation at Dubai’s Expo 2020, SUNA said.

Administrative staff would be cut by 20 percent, in addition to a previous decision to cut staff by 30 percent, the agency said. The decree also dismissed administrative staff at the foreign ministry and diplomats were instructed to handle administrative duties.

Sudan devalued its currency earlier this year in a bid lure back foreign investors. Since then the pound has plummeted to about 35 to the U.S. dollar and inflation has jumped to over 50 percent.

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Sudan Comes in From the Cold

2 May 2018

Sudan has long been known primarily as the base for Osama bin Laden and his then fledgling Al Qaeda terrorist organization from 1991-1996. As a consequence of that, as well as its alignment with Iran and Iran-supported armed factions such as Hamas and Hezbollah, Sudan was placed on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism (‘terrorism list’) in 1993. In subsequent years, its brutal repression of rebels in the Darfur region earned it a comprehensive U.S. trade embargo in 1997 and an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for Sudan’s leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on charges of genocide and war crimes. In August 1998, the United States launched strikes on the suspected Al Qaeda-linked Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, with simultaneous strikes on suspected Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Over the past few years, Sudan has undertaken significant policy shifts and political realignments. U.S. officials have recently maintained Sudan to be a cooperative partner of the United States on counterterrorism and that the country has ceased tolerating or assisting terrorist organizations—including Hamas—within its borders. In large part because of its counterterrorism cooperation, most U.S. sanctions on Sudan, including the U.S.-Sudan trade embargo, were permanently lifted in October 2017. It appears that the Trump Administration is also laying the groundwork to remove Sudan from the terrorism list in the near future, a move that would leave only Syria, Iran, and North Korea as listed states.

The recent U.S. praise for Sudan also flows from Sudan’s geopolitical shift away from Iran and toward the U.S.-allied Persian Gulf states. From 1993 until 2013, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Qods Force (IRGC-QF) helped develop Sudanese pro-government militia forces and Iranian pilots assisted Sudan’s air force. Iran used Sudan as a transshipment point to arm Hamas militia forces in the Gaza Strip, which attracted occasional Israeli airstrikes on Iran-linked targets inside Sudan. However, Iran’s isolation, as well as offers of investment in Sudan by the Sunni-led Gulf states, caused Sudan to reconsider its alliance with Iran. In late 2014, Sudan closed all Iranian cultural centers and expelled Iranian diplomats on the grounds that Iran was using its presence in Sudan to promote Shi’a Islam. In March 2015, Sudan completed the realignment by joining the Saudi-led Arab coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, including deploying several hundred fighters to Yemen in that effort. In early 2016, Sudan broke diplomatic relations with Iran in sympathy with a Saudi-Iran dispute over the Saudi execution of Shi’a dissident cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.

Sudan’s counterterrorism cooperation and strategic realignment has caused the international community to largely overlook the Sudanese government’s human rights abuses, including its brutal repression of rebels in the Darfur region. President Bashir has been able to attend summit meetings in Africa, as well in Iraq, Russia, and other countries, despite the 2009 and 2010 ICC warrants for his arrest for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. And, various European countries reportedly have downplayed the abysmal record of Sudanese security forces to work with them to prevent the movement of migrants from East Africa to Europe.

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2 May 2018

Hope in short supply as fighting in South Sudan escalates ahead of decisive Addis peace talks. Link to image.

As our helicopter approaches Leer in northern South Sudan, all one can see is eerily empty, dry, sun-stricken land. The people we meet on the ground, however, have a different story to tell. It is one of human suffering on an unimaginable scale. Escalating fighting and brutality in the area may compromise the next, widely believed to be decisive, round of peace talks in Addis Ababa.

“The peace talks have not been successful, and I guess most disappointingly the cessation of hostilities [agreement] that was signed at the end of last year which most people felt was a step in the right direction is not working either, and the intensification of the conflict on the ground has a huge human impact,” says UNMISS Chief David Shearer, keen to talk to the warring parties in the hope they will lay down their weapons and build durable peace.

On arrival, we are greeted not by one but two ‘Typhoons’, as the armed personnel carriers used by the Ghanaian peacekeepers are called.

And the 126 West African blue helmets making up the robust base in Leer have indeed gotten used to vicious, destructive whirlwinds in their immediate vicinity. Recent, frequent clashes between government and opposition troops have seen several humanitarian actors forced to leave the area.

But Leer has witnessed numerous arrivals, albeit involuntary ones, too. Over the last week, a steady stream of approximately 600 displaced persons have been scrambling for a place to temporarily settle down in a tiny protection area next to the base of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.

They are joining another 500 or so displaced and disillusioned individuals, most of whom may smile wryly at the somewhat euphemistically named Temporary Protection Area.

“I have been here for three years by now, because of the crisis and all the cases of rape going on outside of here, in the villages. Staying here is not easy, but at least it is better and safer than in a village,” says Nyalui Yor. “Many people were being killed outside, and if you survive and if you are a woman, they rape you.”

Or worse, her fellow protection area resident Nyakui Kong, might add. She arrived just three days ago, with horror scenes still haunting her mind.

“People were killed, houses were burnt, food was taken away. Someone tried to hang me, but luckily I fell down and ran to the UN base. This is the only place I can go,” she says.

Link to image.

The utter lack of available food has also contributed to the decision of the desperate to seek shelter in the protection area, and judging by what precious little can be purchased in Leer’s town centre, real scarcity persists.

Cooking oil is sold in minuscule plastic bags, garlic is bought, or at least on offer, by the clove. Purchasing power is so limited and customers so few and far between that an elderly, near-toothless man fails to fetch a paltry 5 dollars for his two cute baby goats. Two armed young men of unknown affiliation grin grimly, puffing away on their cigarettes as they watch the non-unfolding of the business transaction.

James Gatdit, in the protection area, is also having a feeling that nothing positive is happening. He and his six brothers, three sets of twins, no less, were somehow separated from their parents about two years ago. His mother and father live in the UN Mission protection site in Bentiu, while James and his brothers are mostly idle in Leer.

“Life is no good here. We have no proper accommodation, there is not enough food and nobody is going to school. Why? There are no teachers and no books,” says James, who would like to become a doctor “to give medicines to people who need them”.

James Gatdit seems sadly resigned to his fate.

“How can I be optimistic? The future is no good. There is no future. I don’t believe that our leaders have it in their hearts to make peace.”

Sporting a Liverpool FC football shirt, he cannot even follow his favourite club’s amazing Champions League campaign on TV. Yet Champions League football provides a rare distraction for James and his peers.

“We can’t watch the games, but we play them ourselves,” he says with a hint of a smile.

So, who is to blame for the dire circumstances found in Leer and its surroundings? That, it turns out, depends on whom you are asking.

John Matip Gatluak, governor of Southern Liech, talks of “rebel” attacks “on a daily basis” and about the difficulties of “youth management”.

“The government is doing what it can to contain the situation, but management of youths is difficult, actually. We can’t really control our youth. The security situation is normal, except for the youth, who are out there fighting far from Leer”, Mr. Gatluak says as he steps out from his bullet-ridden office. He and his advisors hint that the conflict is not “tribal”, but “all political” and also driven by cattle raids and subsequent revenge attacks.

His is a lone voice of optimism:

“There is no point that we fight ourselves. President Salva Kiir is declaring a ceasefire and we have to respect it, although rebels continue to attack us. But peace will come. We will manage to bring peace to our people.”

In Dablual in Northern Liech, ten minutes north by helicopter, the tune is different.

“The security situation here is very bad. Government forces have been stealing in this area for almost ten days now. The soldiers come and look for the IO [in opposition] soldiers. They come and kill the old women, the children, the old men. They destroy everything, including houses and even the bore hole, which is now broken,” Major General Joseph Nhial, acting governor in the opposition-controlled area, laments. He mentions numerous places where fighting is ongoing, but maintains that his troops are just defending themselves.

“We [the opposition] are in a position of peace. We follow the cessation of hostilities [agreement] we signed last year.”

In the meantime, a majority of the local population, mostly women and children, are surviving on wild vegetables and fruits, in the bush or on fragile islands in the swamps surrounding the area.

Later this month, the next round of the High Level Revitalization Forum, already postponed twice, is expected to take place. Several stakeholders believe that these talks are crucial, and possibly the last chance to mend the broken seams of this young, war-torn country.

Optimism is hard to come by.

“I know that we are making a difference. I know that people are alive today because of what we do. It is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me going, but you are not seeing the longer term process panning out and that is really depressing. After a day like today, I feel pretty dispirited, to be perfectly honest,” Mr. Shearer said.

In an attempt to mitigate these bleak circumstances, UNMISS is intensifying its patrols to protect civilians and to monitor and report human rights violations. The Mission is also supporting the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and will continue to work alongside local communities to end the hostilities and build durable peace for the sake of the people.

But as we leave Leer heading for Juba, the Ghanaian ‘Typhoons’ remain. So does the uncertainty of what the future holds.

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Embattled Sudan closes overseas missions, reduces staff

3 May 2018

Sudan President Al-Bashir. Link to image.

Faced by serious economic crisis, Sudan has shut 13 of its overseas missions and ordered job cuts at the foreign ministry.

President Omar al-Bashir gave the order , according to report on Thursday.

Bashir’s order comes days after he fired foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandour after he said Sudanese diplomats abroad had not been paid for months.

“President Omar al-Bashir issued a decree ordering the closing of 13 Sudanese diplomatic missions,” the official SUNA news agency reported early Thursday, quoting the decree.

It did not name which missions were to be shuttered.

The president also ordered seven other missions to reduce their diplomatic staff to just one person, and a broader 20 percent cut to administrative staff at all missions, SUNA reported.

“The decisions have been taken in order to cut costs given the economic situation in the country,” the decree said, according to SUNA.

Bashir’s order, in addition, included the dismissal of the entirety of the administrative staff at the foreign ministry, with diplomats taking over their duties, the agency reported.

There were no figures on how many job cuts were to take place in total.

Sudan has been facing financial difficulties amid an acute shortage of hard foreign currency that has seen the African country’s economic crisis worsen.

Ghandour had been the first official to portray a grim picture of the country’s economic woes publicly when he told parliament in April that for months Sudanese diplomats had not been paid and many wanted to return to Khartoum.

Bashir sacked him a day later on April 19.

Sudan has been hit hard by an acute shortage of foreign currency that has seen the pound plunging against the dollar, forcing the central bank to devalue it twice since January.

Expectations of a quick economic revival had been high after Washington lifted a trade embargo.

But officials say the situation has not changed at all as international banks continue to be wary of doing business with Sudanese banks.

Sudan’s overall economy was hit particularly hard after the south separated from the north in 2011, taking with it about 75 per cent of oil earnings.

A surging inflation rate of about 56 percent, regular fuel shortages and rising prices of food items have triggered sporadic anti-government protests in Khartoum and some other towns.

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S. Sudan Catholic hospital to receive new units

May 2, 2018 (YAMBIO) – The Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) is adding a new surgical unit and a blood bank to a hospital in South Sudan, a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates.

Bishop Edward Kussala of Tombura-Yambio lays the ceremonial cornerstone at the new facilities of St. Theresa Hospital in Nzara, South Sudan, April 7, 2018 (Photo: Matthew Jones/CMMB). Link to image.

“We look to build the capacity of the hospital to make sure they are well equipped and well-staffed and well trained to the meet the needs of pregnant mothers and children coming in for services,” CMMB’s Director of Partnerships, Robert Wuillamey, told CNA.

“One of the initiatives we are undertaking is building and equipping the hospital with an operating theater. Currently, the hospital does not have the capacity to do even simple surgeries in a clean and an efficient way,” he added.

St. Theresa Hospital, which is located in Nzara, fewer than 20 miles northwest of Yambio, is currently managed by the Comboni Missionary Sisters and owned by the Diocese of Tombura-Yambio.

The facility, specializing in maternal health also serves some 300,000 people in southwestern South Sudan as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR).

The hospital will reportedly receive not only a surgical operating theater, but a maternity ward as well. The facility will also implant a blood donation program for patients with malaria and anemia.

Last year, the hospital reportedly received between 21,000 and 28,000 out patients’ attendances and 7,000 admissions, but the number is expected to rise as the new facilities become operational.

At 789 deaths per 100,000 live births, war-torn South Sudan reportedly has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and yet most of the causes of these maternal deaths are preventable, particularly when women receive recommended antenatal care.

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South Sudan president appoints new army chief of staff

May 2, 2018 (JUBA) – South Sudan President Salva Kiir has appointed General Gabriel Jok Riak as the country’s new army chief of staff.

General Gabriel Jok Riak (Getty Image). Link to image.

Riak, according a decree issued on Wednesday, succeeds General James Ajongo Mawut who died last month.

The order of appointment came into effect in a decree Kiir issued on 2 May.

Riak, who hails from South Sudan’s Jonglei state, briefly served as the acting army chief of staff after the position recently became vacant.

A former deputy army chief of staff, Riak also served as sector commander in Bahr el Ghazal region before moving to the general headquarters for top level assignment at command leadership.

In July 2015, the United Nations Security Council imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Riak, among other senior military officers. The move came after the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated for sanctions Riak, who was then commander of Sector One of the South Sudanese military.

The president, despite the sanctions, promoted Riak to the deputy chief of defence forces in December last year.

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Sudan has no strategic reserve of fuel: minister

3 May 2018

Link to image.

(KHARTOUM) – A senior official at the Ministry of Oil said Sudan has run out of strategic reserves of fuel due to lack of foreign exchange.

Since April, Sudan suffered an acute countrywide shortage of gasoline and diesel. The shortage comes as the economy continues to suffer from surging inflation and lack of foreign currency.

The State Minister of Oil Saad al-Din Bushra warned the government against failure to provide foreign currency to import petroleum products.

Speaking before the parliament on Wednesday, Bushra said the current fuel crisis would be resolved within 4 to 5 days, pointing however it would return again if the government failed to provide the necessary foreign exchange.

The minister accused unnamed government organs of making wrong interventions that lead to the creation of gasoline black market.

He pointed out that the government has run out of the petroleum strategic reserve, saying if fuel storages were filled fully, it wouldn’t meet the country’s needs for one month.

Bushra added his ministry seeks to import oil through deferred payment method in order to resolve the fuel crisis.

He said Sudan consumes 8800 metric tones of gasoline and 3600 metric tones of benzene, pointing that Khartoum refinery produces only 2650 metric tones which covers 75 percent of the total consumption.

The minister said 122,622 metric tones of petroleum products have been secured for the agricultural purposes, saying the Khartoum refinery is still on the trial run following the recent maintenance work and will resume production within 7 to 10 days.

He pointed out that the maintenance work at Khartoum refinery should have been carried out since 2916 but the government failed to provide $102 million for that purpose.

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No gold rush for South Sudan

2 May 2018

Gold is smuggled across the border and sold for a higher price, robbing South Sudan of its wealth.

 Mining for gold is the only source of income for many people living in the eastern part of South Sudan. But the country is not benefiting from it, because most of the gold discovered is quickly smuggled out of the country.Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan reports from Kapoeta state, where gold digging is a way of life.

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