South Sudan ramps up rhetoric against U.N. as hopes for peace fade

South Sudan ramps up rhetoric against U.N. as hopes for peace fade
A South Sudanese woman waits with a child at a makeshift shelter in the Sudanese border town of Joda after fleeing the violence in her country. (European Pressphoto Agency)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Days after South Sudan's president accused the United Nations of acting like a "parallel government" in the world's newest country, another official said Wednesday that the country was "at war" with the U.N.

The inflammatory rhetoric has raised fears that the violence that broke out in South Sudan last month could drag on.


South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011. But two years later, the country is spiraling into war after a power struggle in the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement escalated.

The movement -- and the army -- split between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his rival, Riek Machar, triggering ethnic violence across the country that has killed as many as 10,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

About 70,000 people have taken refuge at U.N. bases in recent weeks. The angry comments about the world body came after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday condemned South Sudanese troops who tried to force their way into a U.N. base in Jonglei state, threatening international peacekeepers at gunpoint.

"We did not know that when the [U.N. mission] UNMISS was brought to South Sudan, they were brought as a parallel government with the government in South Sudan," Kiir said in televised remarks.

On Wednesday, Information Ministry spokesman John Kelei said, "We are not just at war against Riek Machar's rebels but also the U.N.," the Associated Press reported.

Kiir's spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, also criticized the U.N. mission, accusing it of harboring rebels at its bases.

"The president has not given the green light to attack UNMISS, but UNMISS has to rethink their strategies," he said Wednesday, according to AP.

The comments came with reports of the possible postponement of a summit led by regional powers at which it was hoped that the government and rebels would sign an agreement to cease hostilities, freezing their military positions.

South Sudan's foreign minister, Baranaba Marial Benjamin, told the country's Radio Miraya that Thursday's summit in the capital, Juba, had been canceled. But Eye Radio Juba tweeted late Wednesday that the meeting would go ahead, with the parties expected to sign a deal. Sudanese President Omar Bashir was among those slated to attend.

With confusion reigning about the talks, a cessation of hostilities in doubt and South Sudan's sharp anti-U.N. rhetoric, there are fears the country could slide into a protracted civil war.

Last month, Kiir's government accused Machar and others of launching a coup attempt and arrested 11 people. Machar denied the accusation.

South Sudan fought one of Africa's longest wars before a peace deal in 2005 paved the way for its independence from Sudan.

Since the south became a country, there have been major setbacks -- including the theft of about $4 billion in funds by government figures, according to Kiir. A dispute with Sudan about oil transit fees resulted in the shutdown of oil production, which accounts for about 98% of South Sudan's revenue, for over a year.

The rebel delegation to peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, has demanded the withdrawal of Ugandan forces fighting alongside the South Sudanese army as a precondition to any agreement.


An unidentified Ethiopian foreign affairs official told the Sudan Tribune that Uganda's military intervention wasn't helpful.

Ethiopia chairs the eight-member regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, better known as IGAD, which is mediating the talks. Uganda is also a member, raising questions about IGAD's neutrality in the conflict.

"We see Uganda's military intervention as an emerging obstacle to the peace process," the Ethiopian official was quoted as saying Wednesday.

A rebel spokesman at the talks, Mabior de Garang, accused South Sudan's government of losing interest in a deal after seizing territory.

"They feel they are now strong, so they don't really need the peace process," said De Garang, according to AP.

The U.N. complains there have been numerous violations of its agreement with South Sudan's government, making it difficult for it to operate. The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch also condemned as "unacceptable" the attempts by South Sudanese forces to enter the U.N. compound in the Jonglei state capital, Bor.

Twitter: @latimesdixon