South Sudan: Gunfire continues in tense capital Juba

South Sudan is facing its greatest challenge since becoming independent

Fresh gunfire erupted overnight in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, a day after the government said it had quashed an attempted coup

There were reports of heavy weapons being fired near the presidential palace and in many other parts of Juba.

Several thousand people have taken refuge at two United Nations compounds.

On Monday, President Salva Kiir blamed soldiers loyal to ex-deputy Riek Machar - sacked in July - for the violence, in which at least 26 people died.

Analysis

The continued clashes are undercutting President Salva Kiir's claim on Monday that the government was in "full control" of the situation.

There are two possible - and not necessarily mutually exclusive - explanations for what is happening.

The first, the president's version, is that the army is fighting off an attack by soldiers allied to the former Vice-President, Riek Machar.

The second is that the president has taken advantage of the military flare-up to crack down on many of those who have criticised him.

A showdown between Kiir and Machar is not unexpected. South Sudan is now at a critical point.

He said the clashes began when unidentified uniformed personnel opened fire at a meeting of the ruling party, former rebel force the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), on Sunday night.

A night time curfew is now in place and at least four former ministers have reportedly been arrested after the alleged coup. Mr Kiir said the government was in full control of the capital.

Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said Mr Machar was "wanted by the government" and had gone into hiding.

President Kiir sacked Mr Machar, along with his whole cabinet, in July, reportedly following a power struggle.

Mr Machar, who has said he plans to contest the presidential elections in 2015, now leads a dissident faction within the SPLM.

Rebel 'remnants'

On Tuesday, the foreign ministry said there was renewed fighting in Juba as the military "cleared out remnants" of Mr Machar's alleged supporters.

UN handout showing civilians arriving at one of the UN compounds in Juba (17 December 2013) As many as 13,000 people have fled their homes in Juba

There were unconfirmed reports on local media of police raiding Mr Machar's residence. One report said tanks had surrounded his estate.

Hilde Johnson, the UN's special representative in the country, has urged all sides to exercise restraint and warned against community-motivated violence.

"At a time when unity among South Sudanese is more needed than ever, I call on the leaders of this new country and all political factions and parties, as well as community leaders, to refrain from any action that fuels ethnic tensions and exacerbates violence," she said in a statement.

Ms Johnson's deputy, Toby Lanzer, said in a tweet that up to 13,000 people had sought shelter at two UN bases. Many of the civilians are woman and children.

Profile: Riek Machar

Former South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar (file image)
  • Central figure in Sudanese and South Sudanese politics for three decades
  • Member of South Sudan's second-largest ethnic group, the Nuer
  • Married UK aid worker Emma McCune in 1991 - she died two years later in a car accident in Kenya while pregnant
  • Was a Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) commander and led a breakaway faction for some years in the 1990s
  • After 2005 peace deal appointed vice-president of interim government, retaining the post after independence in 2011 until his dismissal in July 2013

Correspondents say UN staff have hunkered down in a bunker.

Juba's airport remains closed and telephone connections have been severely curtailed.

The government said some 120 people had been taken to a hospital in Juba for treatment.

Emma Jane Drew, the acting director of aid agency Oxfam's South Sudan branch, said she and her team were unable to leave their compound in Juba because of "continued shooting".

The UN and the US embassy advised their citizens to stay at home. Both denied rumours they were harbouring any political or military figures.

South Sudan - the world's youngest country and one of the least developed - has struggled to achieve a stable government since becoming independent from Sudan in 2011.

The independence referendum was intended to end a decade-long conflict, led by the SPLM, against the north.

But the oil-rich country remains ethnically and politically divided, with many armed groups active.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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