China peacekeepers killed in South Sudan as civil war looms

Two Chinese peacekeepers were killed in South Sudan’s capital as the deaths of hundreds of people over the weekend raise the specter of the oil-producing African nation’s return to all-out civil war.

Heavy fighting continued in Juba on Monday, about four days after a shootout in the city between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, the former rebel leader. The violence comes less than three months since the two sides formed a transitional government to end a conflict in the world’s newest nation that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people since it began in December 2013.

The transitional administration “is now dead,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “The idea of stationing two armies, still hostile, within or on the edges of Juba, and entrusting the security of the city to them, has been shown to be profoundly flawed.”

The U.S. government has ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel from the capital and demanded an immediate end to fighting. U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec on Monday said a regional force may need to deployed to stabilize South Sudan. An arms embargo and other measures should also be considered to force leaders to rein in their troops, he told reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Fifth Anniversary

South Sudan, which marked its fifth anniversary of independence from Sudan on Saturday, has been ruled by the transitional government since April, after Kiir and Machar agreed to work together to end the civil war. The conflict forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes and cut oil production in the country, which has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest crude reserves, by at least a third to as little as 120,000 barrels per day.

The country’s crude, pumped by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp., is exported via a pipeline through its northern neighbor. Sudanese officials “don’t expect the oil will stop coming,” Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said by phone from that nation’s capital, Khartoum.

President Umar al-Bashir’s office contacted both Kiir and Machar on Sunday, although their inability to give assurances about the situation suggest “it might be out of their hands,” Osman said, without giving further details.

Forces loyal to Kiir and Machar clashed in Juba on the night of July 7, leaving at least five people dead. The following day, fighting at the presidential compound killed at least 115 people, a spokesman for Machar’s fighters, William Gatjiath Deng, said by phone.

Heavy Gunfire

On Sunday, heavy gunfire erupted in the west of the city, while government helicopters were seen attacking opposition bases. Machar’s troops were still under attack Monday, and the “situation is deteriorating,” Deng said.

State-run China Central Television reported the deaths of the two Chinese troops serving with the United Nations peacekeeping mission via its Twitter account.

Heavy clashes continued early Monday near the UN’s two bases in Juba, the mission’s acting spokeswoman, Shantal Persaud, said by phone. Both compounds were hit on Sunday, she said.

The UN Security Council urged an immediate end to the fighting, while Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked and appalled” by the bloodshed.

“This senseless violence is unacceptable and has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process,” he said in a statement.

The UN Refugee Agency said Monday that neighboring Uganda has closed its border with South Sudan, citing refugees near the crossing. Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda rejected speculation the country will deploy troops to South Sudan, as it did in support of Kiir in late 2013.