There were high hopes for peace and prosperity just over two years ago when South Sudan celebrated its newly found independence from Sudan. Decades of inter-tribal conflicts were set aside. But very quickly rivalries resurfaced, as South Sudan’s main tribal groups, the Nuer and the Dinka, fell out over oil production, the country’s main asset.
South Sudan’s output of 245,000 barrels per day supplies almost all the government’s revenue and hard currency to buy food and other vital imports. But critics say widespread corruption has prevented resources from being shared.
The crisis now gripping the country seems to have begun in the armed forces and then escalated when President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy, Riek Machar, accusing him of trying to launch a coup. The two men have long been political rivals.
Machar rejected the accusation but has since said he is commanding troops fighting the government.
Last week, Kiir called for dialogue to end the conflict but the fighting has shown no signs of dying down.
Machar is of the Nuer tribe; President Kiir is a Dinka. As loyalists on both sides struggle to extend control, the US has warned that any move to take power by military means would lead to an end of American and international community support for South Sudan.