Despair in Juba
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Every effort should be made to prevent the conflict in South Sudan from escalating into civil war.
The tragedy of South Sudan is the brevity of its relief from violence. After more than 20 years of a civil war that wrecked Sudan, when the world's youngest country gained independence in July 2011, several developments were feared. The dispute over sharing oil revenues could have triggered a war between Sudan and South Sudan. One of the world's poorest countries, South Sudan has some of the largest oil reserves in Africa. But while it holds 75 per cent of the oil fields, all the pipelines run north. The disagreement had led to a year-long shutdown of production. The South's ethnic cauldron was also a matter of concern — 200-plus ethnic groups and languages, religious diversity and no dominant culture.
Thousands are feared dead and more than 80,000 people displaced in the clashes since December 15 in a chapter straight out of that story of ethnic strife. The political trigger was President Salva Kiir's accusation that rebel leader Riek Machar, vice president till his sacking in July, and soldiers loyal to him were plotting a coup. Kiir belongs to the largest ethnic group, Dinka, and Machar to the second-largest Nuer tribe. The UNSC fears the conflict could escalate into full-scale civil war. As a result, the UN is deploying an additional 5,500 peacekeepers and temporarily transferring troops from other African missions, even as the US urges immediate dialogue between Kiir and Machar.