Gunfire again erupts in South Sudan’s capital

December 16, 2013

Gunfire rang out again in South Sudan’s capital late Monday, hours after President Salva Kiir Mayardit said his forces had quelled an “attempted coup” by his fired deputy.

Kiir had said earlier that fighters loyal to former vice president Riek Machar had attacked an army base in the early hours of Monday morning but that the military asserted control. He imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

After the streets emptied and thousands of residents took refuge in U.N. compounds in Juba, diplomats and a U.N. official reported hearing fresh shooting starting about 10 p.m. in the city’s Tomping neighborhood.

“We, too, have heard the gunshots in Tomping. Really urging everyone to stay indoors and stay safe,” the U.S. Embassy in Juba said on its Twitter feed. Cellphone networks were down across the capital.

The government has struggled to establish a functioning state since declaring independence from Sudan in 2011 to become Africa’s newest nation.

Kiir dismissed Machar after mounting public criticism of the government’s failure to deliver better public services in the oil-producing nation, which is the size of France but barely has any paved roads.

The two men are from different ethnic groups that have clashed in the past. Machar has said he wants to run for president.

Heavy gunfire and blasts erupted late Sunday and continued into the early morning of Monday, then appeared to die down by midday as government troops patrolled the streets and set up roadblocks, witnesses said.

Kiir appeared on national television Monday afternoon, flanked by cabinet ministers and wearing combat fatigues rather than his usual civilian clothes.

He said the fighting broke out after an unidentified person fired shots in the air near a ruling-
party conference.

“This was followed later by an attack at the SPLA [South Sudan army] headquarters near Juba University by a group of soldiers allied to the former vice president Dr. Riek Machar and his group. These attacks continued until this morning,” Kiir said.

“However, I would like to inform you, at the outset, that your government is in full control of the security situation in Juba,” he added.

The fighting is the latest setback for one of Africa’s poorest states. Oil production, South Sudan’s main source of revenue, was shut down for 15 months until April because of a dispute with Sudan, which hosts the main export oil pipeline.

Critics say the new nation suffers the same ills as old Sudan, including rampant corruption, poor public services and repression of government opponents and the news media.

— Reuters

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