Was there a coup in South Sudan?

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. The world's youngest country, South Sudan, is not having a happy childhood. South Sudan only won its independence from its parent Sudan in 2011. Its first two years have been marked by cross border violence and ethnic disputes...and now, internal strife. This week, a former vice president of South Sudan is accused of attempting to state a coup. Hundreds of deaths have been reported. The situation is extremely confusing, with multiple contradictory accounts. I spoke earlier with the BBC's Africa Security correspondent, Moses Rono, who's trying to piece together the story from neighboring Nairobi. The headline from what I'm hearing was there's an attempted coup d'etat. Was the government of President Salva Kiir overthrown?

Moses Rono: No, the government of President Salva Kiir of course is still in office, is still in power. He just came this afternoon local time to speak and give an update of the situation. What he said though was that there was an attempted coup to overthrow his government. He blamed his rival, former vice president Riek Machar for what he said, he orchestrated a coup, which failed. Riek Machar has spoken; he said that there wasn't any military coup and he's actually denied at all involvement. But anyway, by any name what's happened is there was fighting between military units in the capital Juba on Sunday night. It extended to Monday and Tuesday, and right now the situation is a bit confused over whether indeed there was a military coup.

Werman: Is that believable that Riek Machar has nothing to do with it?

Rono: It's very difficult. It depends really on which side you are looking at because Riek Machar and the president Salva Kiir have had political differences, which escalated and lead to the [inaudible 01:44] of Riek Machar in July of this year. From then on, the vice president was dismissed, has been harboring intentions of running against the president in elections set for 2015. So what is clear though is the fact that there have been a lot of differences between these two people. They are senior politicians in South Sudan. What is of concern is the fact that they are from the two main ethnic groups in the country and their differences mirror the wider differences in society, and also differences within the military, which now have exploded in this recent unrest in the capital.

Werman: Are you suggesting Moses that there's an ethnic component to the past couple of days?

Rono: There has been concern among ??02:28, including the UN. What obviously a lot of people who are in Sudan and South Sudanese have been telling me is that this is absolutely not an ethnic conflict, it is only the politics that have escalated. So obviously there is a case to be made that there is a ethnic dimension to this conflict because of the fact that the two combatants or the two actors in this situation are from the two major ethnic groups in the country, but it is early days to say conclusively if indeed this is how it is going.

Werman: Is it possible, Moses, that President Salva Kiir is cracking down to kind of consolidate his power?

Rono: Yes, that is the kind of thinking that the people opposed to him are saying. Riek Machar this afternoon was saying exactly the same thing, that the president just wants to eliminate opposition ahead of opposition and have more authority as far as his position is concerned.

Werman: I mean listeners will remember that South Sudan only became a free and independent nation in 2011, this after decades of war against the north, but even in the beginning of the new nation, I mean it was triumphant, but people were warning be alert, anything could happen. Do you think this was inevitable and why?

Rono: Obviously, these are the concerns that always were there. We always thought maybe the people who are predicting that there is a chance that this country could go in this direction to some sort of violence and some sort of divisions, were wrong, but now we see where we are.

Werman: Moses Rono, the BBC's Africa Security correspondent, thanks so much for your time.

Rono: Thank you.