The collapse of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) following the Lo’bonok showdown

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By Leeri Marella

The past two weeks witnessed a sudden escalation in hostilities at all fronts between the Juba regime and the National Salvation Front (NAS). The clashes started by the government forces launching an attack on NAS forces in Lo’bonok and Karpeto on the 23rd of July 2019. The press release issued by NAS stated that the attacking force composed of the Mathiang Anyoor militia, bodyguards of Vice President, James Wani Igga, and some elements from the SPLM IO. The initial wave of attack was repulsed with eight troops killed from the government side. It transpired that President Kiir was furious on receiving a briefing about the setback in Lo’bonok. He thus ordered all the military and the National Security Service (NSS) units in Juba to go to Lo’bonok. The massive offensive that ensued on NAS positions yielded nothing significant as NAS forces had long made a tactical withdrawal.

Furthermore, the South Sudan people’s defence Force (SSPDF) undertook another futile attack on NAS forces in Eastern Equatoria a week after the Lo’bonok confrontations. They ended up shelling some mountains in the hope of inflicting damage on NAS forces. In the meantime, there’s an ongoing military build-up north of Juba in the quest to dislodge NAS forces from the area. Similarly, reports are coming in of an enormous military build-up in Morobo. There are no secrets here. Even the laypeople know that the regime is preparing to launch a big attack on NAS forces in Morobo and other parts of the Yei River State.

It took the government some days before it could admit the occurrence of clashes with NAS forces. It came in a lukewarm statement by the SSPDF Spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang who blamed NAS forces for attacking the SSPDF.

Surprisingly, the missing entities regarding these events were the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) and the Committee for Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM). So far we haven’t seen any statement from JMEC or CTSAMVM regarding the violent events in Lo’bonok and elsewhere. Amb. Lt. Gen. Augostino Njoroge, the Interim Chairman of JMEC, never uttered a word or issued a press release about those events.

It’s important to remind ourselves of what CoHA says to be able to understand what is going on. The relevant points are contained in Article Three, that reads:
Obligations of the Parties under the CoH

1) The Parties shall respect and ensure full compliance with international humanitarian law.

2) All hostile military actions, including the following, are prohibited:
(a) attacks aimed at dislodging, capturing ground or equipment, ambushes, and killing one another;
(b) reconnaissance operations against each other;
(c) laying of mines of any nature including anti-tank and anti-personnel mines;
(d) use of proxy militias to provoke or attack one another;
(e) interference and jamming of one another’s field military means of communication; and
(f) Any provocative and deceptive actions.

3) The Parties shall not take any actions that could lead to military confrontations. That includes the unauthorized movement of forces, ammunition resupply, and any other activity that could be viewed as confrontational.

The government has violated the CoHA in a big way. It’s not the first time it did so. The situation had turned into a pattern whereby the SSPDF attacks NAS positions and later accuses NAS forces of starting the battles. The case poses a legitimate question. Why are the JMEC, the CTSAMVM, and the IGAD silent about what happened and still going on? They were always quick to condemn NAS and the opposition in general for violation of CoHA while patting the government on the back.

What we are seeing is not only the application of double standards but something more disturbing. It’s displayed in how JMEC, CTSAMVM, and IGAD handled the Luri incident of 18/12/2018. Four members of the CTSAMVM were assaulted, detained, and humiliated by the government forces. A female Ethiopian colonel (a member of the team) was ordered to remove all her clothing and was left completely naked. In the group was a Kenyan Major and a Sudanese Colonel. They were forced to strip and remain with nothing but underwears.
The following is an excerpt from the CoHA.
Article Eleven Prohibited Acts
1) The following acts are prohibited:
(a) attacks, harassment, intimidation and arrest, abduction or detention of CTSAMVM personnel; and
(b) obstruction or interference with the movements and work of CTSAMVM.

The above account leaves no doubt that the government had breached the CoHA big time in defiance of numerous warnings from JMEC, CTSAMVM, and the IGAD. But what did JMEC and CTSAMVM do to make the violator accountable? The answer is that apart from tepid condemnation, nothing tangible was done against the perpetrators and the government of South Sudan. It appears the matter had already been swept under the carpet. The way the JMEC and the CTSAMVM conducted business so far, raises questions about their credibility. At best, their trustworthiness is at stake if it hasn’t already been lost. To many South Sudanese, the JMEC and the CTSAMVM are nothing but pawns used by the regime in Juba.

But are we not asking much from entities that are inherently biased due to their compositions? The conflict of interests features in anything related to these bodies. The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) is not all about bringing peace to the people of South Sudan. It’s more about taking care of the interests of some regional powers, and some in the international community. IGAD peace mediation is a perfect example of a conflict of interests. In the end, the peace deal appeared to be the embodiment of the interests of the ruling clique, the regional powers, and some influential players in the international community. The interests of the people seem to have taken a secondary position.

We know for a fact that the government of South Sudan had curtailed the activities of the CTSAMVM. CTSAMVM complained many times of being denied access to some sites under government control. It casts doubts about the accuracy and credibility of its reports. There’s nothing new about JMEC apart from a change of faces since the lacklustre tenure of the Botswana former President, Festus Mogae. Amb. Lt Gen. Augostino Njoroge, the Interim Chairman, keeps writing his monotonous and factless reports to justify his fat salary. The reports are more or less the Mogae style and words minus the names and the dates.

While the opposition forces of those who had signed the R-ARCSS continue to face hunger due to lack of funding, JMEC gets 4.5 million USD from the government of South Sudan. A fraction of what is lavishly spent on JMEC and CTSAMVM would have averted the dire situation in the assembly sites for cantonment.

The CTSAMVM held a meeting four days ago in Juba whereby its Chairman, General Abiche Agneo, urged the parties to open the cantonment sites. There was no mention of the clashes in Lo’bonok nor elsewhere. Also, nothing was said about the movement of forces and military hardware in preparation for a major offensive on NAS forces. The evidence is overwhelming and compelling. It points to the fact that JMEC, CTSAMVM, and IGAD are acting in collusion with the regime in Juba.

Now, where does CoHA stands after the numerous violations that were tolerated by the JMEC and the CTSAMVM? Could the Interim Chairman of the JMEC or the Chairman of the CTSAMVM confidently say that CoHA is still alive amid the clashes and the ongoing military build-up? The government has been violating CoHA from day one with impunity. In essence, the CoHA is dead unless it’s only the opposition groups, including NAS that are bound by its stipulations.

Amb. Lt. Gen. Augostino Njoroge is following the footsteps of his predecessor, Festus Mogae. Exactly like Mogae, he would not end up with a memorable legacy in South Sudan but a personal gain in the form of a massive expansion of his bank account.

Lotole Lo Luri

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