At least 272 die as South Sudan goes ‘back to war’

At least 272 people have died in fighting between South Sudan’s rival factions in the capital Juba, including 33 civilians, a government source said yesterday, as heavy gunfire erupted again in the city and many residents sought shelter at a UN base.

The fighting first broke out on Thursday and Friday between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and soldiers who support vice president Riek Machar.

Col William Gatjiath, Machar’s military spokesman, told the BBC that President Salva Kiir “isn’t serious” about a peace agreement and that the country was “back to war”.

The violence raises fears South Sudan could slide back into conflict after emerging from a two-year civil war, which began in December 2013 after Kiir sacked Machar as vice president.

Neighboring Kenya called for urgent action by the two leaders to move troops away from civilians and end the crisis.

A government spokesman later said the situation had been brought under control. “The situation is now calm,” Michael Makuei, minister of information, said in a broadcast by South Sudanese TV.

He said the government was calling on people to go back to their homes and that the situation was under control.

On Saturday Juba had been calm, but on Sunday a Reuters witness and residents said gunfire was heard in Gudele and Jebel suburbs of Juba, near the military barracks that hosts troops loyal to Machar.

“For about 30 to 40 minutes we heard sounds of heavy artillery in the direction of Jebel area,” an aid worker based in Juba who did not want to be named told Reuters.

One resident, Daniel Samson, said he had seen a “massive migration” of people fleeing to calmer districts when there was a lull. “The gun shooting has stopped now,” he said.

Another resident, who only gave his name as Steven, said he had seen hundreds heading to a U.N. compound. “I saw dead bodies of civilians and others ... moving with blood on their bodies,” he told Reuters by telephone.

Officials at the U.N. South Sudan mission UNMISS could not immediately be reached for comment.

One eye witness saw soldiers apparently involved in looting, by entering a neighbor’s shop and leaving with merchandise. It was not clear if those troops supported Kiir or Machar.

A Health Ministry source said yesterday that at least 272 people had been killed, including 33 civilians, so far. There was no official statement on the death toll.

Kenya called on Kiir and Machar to resolve the latest crisis and urgently to move heavy weaponry and huge contingents of soldiers out of civilian spaces of the capital Juba, Kenyan presidential spokesman Manoah Espisu told a briefing.

A peace agreement last August ended the war but Kiir and Machar spent months after that wrangling over details and have yet to integrate their forces, a key part of the peace deal.


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