South Sudan: Anne Itto - 'South Sudan Is Not a Written Off Case' Photo: Julio Brathwaite/UN[1]

Displaced civilians taking shelter at a United Nations compound on the southwestern outskirts of Juba.

Peace talks between South Sudan's government and rebels have resumed in Addis Ababa. Acting SPLM Secretary General Anne Itto calls for more humanitarian assistance from the international community.

DW: What role do political issues play in this conflict?

First of all, we are used to being a liberation or resistance movement and that has helped us to fight the war, to negotiate peace. But we realised in the SPLM that we needed to start the work for national state building so we thought it was time to review our basic documents and make a roadmap for the restructuring and reorganization of the SPLM.

In what way did that lead to the conflict that erupted in December?

The reorganization of the SPLM basically means democratic processes of electing leaders and representatives right from the grass roots, culminating in a national convention.

In this national convention the chairperson of the SPLM is elected. That position is up for grabs. It turned out that four people in the political bureau, the organization that manages the SPLM, were interested in running for the position of SPLM chairperson.

But instead of waiting for the national convention, three started campaigning. This created a rift between the incumbent chairman and those who were contesting. These differences led to the slight paralysis of our political work, particularly of our work on the review of our basic documents, such as our manifesto and the constitution.

You mentioned that dissatisfied people left the party. What are the economic and social factors that made other people join them and set up militias?

Nobody actually left the party. Even today, Riek Machar [the former vice-president of South Sudan] who organized a state coup is negotiating in the name of SPLA/ SPLM inner-opposition.

Nobody left the party but people disagreed: one group remained in the SPLM government and another group of Riek Machar and his supporters went to the bush. The members of SPLM have remained intact.

Part of the provision of the comprehensive peace agreement was to absorb other armed groups which were mainly militia or armed groups under the command of warlords. In the interests of peace, the government of South Sudan absorbed many thousands. When the coup took place, 70 per cent of the army were militia.

Possibly Riek saw this as an opportunity to entice them so that they can join to fight against the government, but they were not necessarily members of the SPLM.

Why was it so difficult, despite all the government efforts, to dissolve and disarm all the militias? What makes people still become members of such militias?

First of all, the militias were recruited by individuals to fight for their own individual interest. They don't fight for the interest of the state. Second, so many of them have been absorbed while they still remained loyal to somebody else. If somebody is in the army they only receive a salary but stay loyal to somebody else. It is very difficult to know who can mobilize them against the government. Exactly that happened.

What would you see as the way forward now to achieve lasting peace in South Sudan?

When this conflict broke out, IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) facilitated the peace negotiations on the comprehensive peace agreement. IGAD came back to us and offered to mediate.


  1. ^ Julio Brathwaite/UN (


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