Tuesday, December 17, 2013
South Sudanese capital Juba is a battlefield
President Salva Kiir giving a speech on Monday, in which he asserted that his troops were in command.
Update: The United Nations received reports from local sources in South Sudan on Tuesday that between 400 and 500 people had been killed and up to 800 wounded in the latest violence, and the government said it had arrested 10 politicians in connection with a "foiled coup".
"Two hospitals have recorded between 400 and 500 dead and (up to) 800 wounded," a diplomat in New York said on condition of anonymity, citing an estimate United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous gave during a closed-door briefing for the 15-member body. Another diplomat confirmed Ladsous' remarks, adding that the United Nations was not in a position to verify the figures. (End of Update)
Fierce battles raged on Tuesday in South Sudan's capital Juba, witnesses said, as troops loyal to the president fought rival soldiers accused of staging a coup in the world's youngest nation. The continued gunfire, including the sporadic firing of heavy weapons, resumed in the early hours of Tuesday as terrified residents barricaded themselves in their homes or attempted to flee the city.
South Sudan's Under-Secretary for Health Makur Korion said on local radio that at least 26 people had so far been killed in the violence. At least 130 more are reported to have been wounded. "We can still hear sporadic shooting from various locations. The situation is very tense," Emma Jane Drew of the British aid agency Oxfam told AFP by telephone from Juba. "It's continued shooting. Shooting could be heard all through the night. We don't know who is fighting who." Drew said her team was unable to leave their compound because of the fighting, which began late on Sunday.
Inhabitants of Juba seeking refuge at a UN compound.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has accused troops loyal to his arch-rival, former vice president Riek Machar who was sacked from the government in July, of attempting a coup. On Monday, Kiir said his troops were "in full control of the security situation in Juba", and imposed an overnight curfew on the city -- only for the fighting to resume again.
The independent radio station Tamazuj said clashes were taking place around compounds belonging to Machar or his loyalists. UN radio said at least 7,000 civilians had taken refuge at UN offices. An AFP reporter said residents living in areas close to military bases were using any lull in the fighting to flee for safer areas, although many said they were too afraid to move.
South Sudan won its independence in 2011 after its people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to split from the north and form a new nation. But the country has struggled with ethnic violence and corruption, and political tensions have worsened in recent weeks between rival factions within the ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Machar leads a dissident group within the SPLM and had been seen as the main challenger to Kiir. The rivals hail from different ethnic groups (the Dinka and Nuer tribes respectively) and had in the past fought on different sides during Sudan's civil war. Officials have said several former government ministers have been arrested, although the whereabouts of Machar is unclear.
Communications in Juba continued to be sporadic, with most phone lines down and the main airport closed, diplomats and civil aviation officials said.