By David Lewis
JUBA (Sun News) – South Sudanâs civil war has mutated from a two-way fight between the president and his ousted former deputy to a fragmented conflict, making it harder to put it back together and peace more elusive, the top U.N. peacekeeper in the country said.
David Shearer, head of the 13,000-strong United Nations mission, welcomed signs that regional leaders were rejuvenating the peace process but said any initiative must include all factions, including that of former Vice President Riek Machar, and discourage the multiplication of armed groups.
South Sudan slipped into civil war in 2013, just two years after becoming independent from Khartoum, and some 4 million people â around one third of the population â have fled to neighbouring countries or to pockets of relative safety.
The conflict, ignited by a feud between President Salva Kiir and Machar, has resulted in ethnic cleansing between the leadersâ respective Dinka and Nuer communities.
However, an escalation of fighting since last July that forced Machar to flee the country a month later has seen clashes spread to previously unaffected areas.
“The situation now is somewhat different to what it was a year ago, when it was largely bipolar,” Shearer told Sun News in an interview late on Monday.
“We are seeing a lot more of the conflict being played out at a very local level and that is worrying because as it fractures it becomes more difficult to try to put the pieces back together again.”
Fighting has in particular affected the southern Equatoria regions, previously largely spared violence. The spike in fighting resulted in South Sudan having the fastest growing refugee population in the world as civilians poured into Uganda.