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South Sudan Rebellion Maps: The December 2013 Rebellion in 6 Pictures

South Sudan Rebellion Maps as of January 2014: A six-map time series showing areas affected by the South Sudan rebellion, December 15, 2013-January 30, 2014

Please note that areas displayed on the South Sudan rebellion maps as areas under rebel control are based on media reports and (often propagandist) claims by both sides of the conflict, and therefore may not portray exact areas over which rebels had complete control. All events, descriptions, and locations reported below are based on media reports and other publicly available sources. This is not a comprehensive list and does not necessarily reflect every event that has occurred on the ground during the time frame. Events, descriptions, locations, and mapped boundaries do not reflect the views of or imply endorsement by mapeastafrica.com, those who manage the site, or any of its affiliates.

1. December 15-21: SPLA defections, former rebel leaders involved

What exactly prompted the fighting in Juba on the night of December 15 remains unclear to most observers. What is clear is that there was either a misunderstanding or an order for disarmament of certain Tiger Force (presidential guard) soldiers, and the issue took an ethnic dimension. By December 21, Riek Machar (former Vice President and also leader of the 1991 “Nasir Coup” attempt to oust John Garang from SPLA leadership) claimed to be in control of the predominantly Nuer areas of Unity, central and northern Jonglei, and southern Upper Nile. Gen. Peter Gadet Yak, former commander of the SSLM/A rebels of Unity who returned to the SPLM/A fold in mid-2011, led rebel forces in attacking Bor. Somewhat ironically, Matthew Pul Jiang (who formerly served in the SSLA under Gadet and took over command of the SSLA rebellion in mid-2011 when Gadet accepted Kiir’s amnesty) and the former SSLA rebels largely aligned themselves with SPLA forces in Unity to fight against the rebels who followed Machar and James Koang Chuol. Gadet’s forces captured Bor and established forward posts along the road to Juba within the first week of the rebellion.

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2. December 22-26: SPLA retakes Bor, rebels capture Malakal

By the second week of the rebellion, it appeared that SPLA forces had been pushed out of most of Unity State: soldiers had reportedly fled and regrouped in Twic County, Warrap, while SSLA and SPLA forces also remained and fought in Mayom. On Christmas Eve, after several days of fighting around Bor, the SPLA recaptured the city, but with rumors of White Army mobilization bringing a flood of disaffected Nuer youth southward from Ulang, Nasir, and Akobo Counties, the victory was not to last. Meanwhile, SPLA defections took place in Lakes State and from the Jau garrison at the northern tip of Unity. The majority of oilfields were under rebel control, but the majority of production takes place in Upper Nile, so oil continued to flow northward from Paloich and Atar oilfields despite clashes in the area.

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3. December 17 – January 4: The Battle of Bor continues

As IGAD and Western powers continued to push for negotiations, parts of South Sudan descended into mayhem. It was unclear during this period what defections had taken place in Upper Nile, as fighting was reported but defections at Kaka and Wadakona were not reported until later. What was clear was that the town of Mayom had been largely wiped out in the conflict, along with Bor, Jonglei’s capital, which was retaken by Rebels on December 31. The actions of former rebel leaders also took various directions. David Yau Yau, whose rebellion had dominated the Murle areas of Jonglei in 2010 and 2012-2013, opted to join peace talks with the Government of South Sudan amid rumors that he desires to join the clergy. SPLA contingents defected in Western Equatoria and Central Equatoria defected and headed towards Unity and Jonglei, in some cases apparently shooting and looting along the way.

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4. January 5-14: SPLA advances to Bentiu

The joint SPLA and SSLA forces fought their way out of Mayom and recaptured Bentiu, where reports suggested that rebel forces did not put up much of a fight. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) claimed to have clashed with and disarmed rebels in the border areas near Heglig (Dinka: “Pan-thou”). Several cattle raids took place north of Bor, likely carried out by White Army or other rebel elements. Note that cattle raids took place primarily in areas historically dominated by Dinka (see ethnic map below); because there was little other fighting reported in those areas and rebels claimed to have control over them, I have marked them as rebel-controlled on the map. The primary axes of fighting remained Bentiu, Malakal and the Bor/Juba-Bor road area.

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5. January 15-19: Ceasefire negotiations in progress

Rebels and SPLM agreed in principal to a ceasefire during meetings in Addis Ababa on January 18. In the meantime, new defections in Upper Nile extended the rebels’ area of influence northward, with SPLA defectors claiming control over several towns along the White Nile between Renk and Malakal. One development that might have forced the hands of rebel negotiators was the involvement of Ugandan forces in the recapture of Bor. Mayhem continues in parts of the country – in particular, the UN announced that rebels had commandeered white UNMISS vehicles and were using them in military operations, a serious violation of international and military protocol. Note on the map: heavy bombing in the Nuba Mountains forced refugees to flee from Talodi area in mid-late December; apparently some were not aware of the situation in South Sudan, but they did arrive at Yida soon after the area came back under government control.

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January 20-29: SPLA advances, ceasefire is signed

The delegations in Addis Ababa signed a ceasefire on January 23, after the SPLA had recaptured Malakal and pushed rebel forces even farther north of Bor and south of Bentiu. Despite the ceasefire, clashes continued in Unity State, where there were reports that parts of Leer and Koch had seen clashes and the burning of villages after the SPLA advanced past Dan-Dok and Duar (near Tharjath oilfields). Fearing ethnic strife, Nuer civilians fled Bentiu for Leer, where the situation was reported to be critical, with a huge influx of people in need and very low supplies of food. Meanwhile, the remnants of what may have been the defectors that crossed Western Equatoria were pushed out of Central Equatoria and clashed with security forces in Awerial County on their way toward Unity. Despite the possibility of peace that comes with the ceasefire, Riek Machar faces treason charges as Salva Kiir seeks to solidify his control over the country. Other rebel leaders in the past have been offered amnesty, but clearly Kiir feels that Machar has overstepped the bounds… for the second time in the past 25 years.

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7. Bonus Map: Ethnic Map of South Sudan, based on various historical ethnic maps I have seen (the UN and South Sudan Information Management Unit have published maps similar to this, and they look a lot like the ethnic maps in Bob Collins’ 1971 book Land Beyond the Rivers, and more or less like ethnic maps created by Columbia University as part of their Gulf-2000 project and Steve Huffman’s language maps). The December 2013 South Sudan rebellion clearly had ethnic overtones, as have virtually all rebellions in South Sudan, in particular the 1991 Nasir Coup, led by Riek Machar.

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What are your thoughts?