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Photo; Bulldozers collecting rotting bodies for mass burials in the Southern Sudan genocide

As ethnic massacres in South Sudan spiral out of
control and politicians lose their grip on rampaging
militias, only a concerted international effort stands
any chance of ending the four-month-old civil war,
analysts say.

The past week has been described by a senior UN
official as the “most bleak” in South Sudan’s short
history, with pro-government gunmen storming a UN
base in an attempt to kill thousands of terrified
civilians and rebels accused of conducting massacres
in churches, mosques and hospitals.

According to the UN’s top official in the war-torn
nation, Toby Lanzer, the country has now descended
into “a cycle of revenge” — barely three years after
the fanfare that accompanied its independence from
Khartoum.

For John Prendergast, co-founder of the anti-genocide
Enough Project, only a “high profile initiative of the
international community” including the United States
— which was instrumental in helping South Sudan
separate from Khartoum — stands any chance of
preventing a protracted conflict and more atrocities.

READ: US ‘horrified’ by violence in South Sudan

“If it’s a low-key, under-the-radar begging operation,
these parties are just going to laugh at it,” he said.

“If you have a very serious, high level engagement
that has senior representation in key countries with
some level of past and present influence, that brings
to bear that kind of pressure, then you’ve got a
chance,” said Prendergast, a former Africa director for
the National Security Council during Bill Clinton’s
presidency.

Going after the leaders
The war broke out on December 15 following a clash
within the presidential guard and rapidly escalated
as soldiers took sides with either President Salva Kiir
or his sacked deputy, Riek Machar.

The conflict quickly took on an ethnic dimension,
with Kiir drawing support from the ethnic Dinka
community and Machar from his Nuer tribe.
Thousands and possibly tens of thousands of people
have died while over a million have been forced from
their homes.

To further complicate matters on the ground, the
notorious ethnic Nuer “White army” has joined the
fray on the side of Machar’s patchwork rebel force,
neighbouring Uganda is backing Kiir while rival
militias from neighbouring Sudan have reportedly
been joining in.

Both the government and rebel forces have been
accused of committing war crimes, including
massacres, rape and child soldier recruitment, and
Prendergast said concrete action on this could also
be used as a way to halt the fighting.

READ: South Sudan rebels blamed for massacres
push offensive

“When you actually start freezing the assets, seizing
the cars and the houses in Kenya and Ethiopia that
are owned by most of these senior officials in
government and the rebellion, when you start
sending their kids home from schools… then it starts
to get their attention,” he said.

“We have both sides committing atrocities, so it’s
easy to say we’re going to go after individuals on
both sides.

There’s some level of even-handedness,
with very specific targeted sanctions, very specific
asset freezes.”

Casie Copeland of the International Crisis Group, an
international conflict resolution think-tank, said the
South Sudanese currently have no intent to stop
fighting — even though they are paying lip service to
peace talks being held in Ethiopia and signed a
ceasefire in January.

“The two warring parties right now prefer to seek a
solution on the battlefield rather than through peace
talks,” she said.

“Peace talks in Addis produced a ceasefire which was
almost immediately violated, and right now we are
seeing little commitment from either side to a
negotiated solution.

There needs to be concerted
political action.”

Chinese clout

Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen, a Swiss citizen
working in South Sudan for 16 years and a former UN
and government adviser, said the crisis was now as
bad as the worst days of the decades-long civil war
that preceded independence.

The impact of fighting has been “catastrophic”, he
said, warning that “the future of the world’s newest
country is as insecure as it has ever been”.

Aid agencies say more than a million people are at risk of
famine.

“Humanitarian aid will be the sticking plaster over
South Sudan’s gaping wounds,” he said, saying the
country had been essentially left “unattended by a
divisive and ineffective international community.”

South Sudan’s oil wealth is now being bitterly fought
over by the government and rebels, but could
provide a key to speed up any diplomatic initiative by
drawing in major investor and big power China.

“For many Western countries, it’s not a big enough
revenue generator to be a factor, but for some of the
eastern countries like China, India and Malaysia,
given their deep involvement in the oil sector over
the years, particularly China, oil is a major factor,”
said Prendergast.

“This is an opportunity for the United States and
some other countries to deepen their engagement
with Beijing to jointly work together to find solutions
to bring leverage on the parties to find solutions to
the conflict,” he said.

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