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South Sudan Declares State of Emergency in 4 States

President of South Sudan Salva Kiir speaks on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of his country's independence at the presidential palace in Juba, July 9, 2017.
President of South Sudan Salva Kiir speaks on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of his country's independence at the presidential palace in Juba, July 9, 2017.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has declared a state of emergency in his home state of Gogrial and parts of three other states where clashes have raged for months between clan-based militias.

The country's information minister, Michael Makuei, said the army would be given powers to stop the fighting in Gogrial and the states of Tonj, Wau and Aweil East.

He told Reuters news agency Tuesday that some citizens' rights would be suspended, but did not elaborate. There have been reports of clashes in Gogrial between militiamen from the Apuk and Aguok clans of the Dinka tribe.

Rajab Muhandis, executive director of the Juba-based South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections, said the state of emergency will embolden soldiers to take matters into their own hands.

“The state of emergency brings in restrictions and gives more powers to the government to take steps that may not be necessarily prescribed in the law. And this is likely to affect the rights of citizens,” Muhandis told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

Night-time restrictions

South Sudan Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Kordit said the emergency declaration is aimed at improving security.

“This will enhance security and give a conducive environment for police and local authorities to calm down insecurity situation there in terms of communal fight(ing) and try to bring into order these unlawful armed young men who are carrying out either unlawful killings or cattle rustling,” Kordit told VOA.

The declaration, announced Monday night on state-run television, will restrict movement of civilians during night-time hours, according to Kordit.

Changes may slow food delivery

Bongiri Peter, executive director of the civil society group Humanity South Sudan, said the government must ensure that the state of emergency does not impede the work of humanitarian agencies working to provide food and healthcare to those in need.

“Some of the restrictions must not impede the work of humanitarian organizations and the agencies that are delivering services there, because a curfew might go into all sectors and sometimes it's very difficult for the people working in the area of service delivery,” Peter said.

Gogrial, Tonj, Wau and Aweil East are four of the 28 states that President Kiir created in 2015, replacing South Sudan's previous 10 states. The four states were previously part of Bahr el Ghazal state.

Rebel forces fighting Kiir's government do not recognize the change.

Malania Itto, who works for the Solidarity for Women's Rights Association (SOWA), said the emergency declaration will hurt civil society organizations.

“It will affect some of our colleagues who are working in the areas. They will be affected because they will not have freedom of movement,” Itto said.

Mired in violence

Munir Morris Togo, who also works for SOWA, said the declaration will isolate large parts of the country at a time when South Sudanese must come together and talk about how to bring about lasting peace.

“Geographically, if you exclude Bahr el Ghazal with this state of emergency then you are going to stop the work of this National Dialogue. Yet the National Dialogue is the way to peace,” Togo said.

South Sudan has been mired in violence since fighting between government forces and rebels opposed to Kiir erupted in December 2013. The war has displaced some four million South Sudanese from their homes.