By Peter Martell and Michael Mathes ,AFP
WASHINGTON/NAIROBI — 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 U.N. official as the “most bleak” in South Sudan’s short history, with pro-government gunmen storming a U.N. base in an attempt to kill thousands of terrified civilians and rebels accused of conducting massacres in churches, mosques and hospitals. According to the U.N.’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. “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.
The war broke out on Dec. 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, neighboring Uganda is backing Kiir while rival militias from neighboring Sudan have reportedly been joining in.