South Sudan clashes: 'Dozens of soldiers killed' in Juba

The BBC's Moses Rono says the atmosphere in Juba and elsewhere remains tense

More than 60 soldiers have been killed in two days of clashes in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, doctors at a military hospital have said.

Fresh violence broke out on Tuesday, a day after the government said it had quashed an attempted coup.

The UN says up to 13,000 people have sought shelter at its compounds.

President Salva Kiir blames the unrest on soldiers loyal to his former deputy Riek Machar, who was sacked in July along with the whole cabinet.

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.

The government says 10 people have been arrested in connection with the violence, including former Finance Minister Kosti Manibe.

It is seeking five other prominent figures for questioning, including Mr Machar and Pagan Amum, the chief negotiator during a recent oil shutdown and a known critic of President Kiir.

Information Minister Micheal Makuei told the BBC that Mr Machar had escaped from Juba with some troops, and also stolen some cattle.

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

Curfew in place

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

The violence continued into Monday, until the government said it was back in full control.

But fresh gunfire erupted on Tuesday near the presidential palace and many other areas of Juba.

Civilians crowd inside the United Nations compound on the outskirts of the capital Jub Up to 13,000 people are thought to have sought refuge in UN compounds in Juba
A young boy, injured while fleeing from clashes, rests at a medical clinic inside the United Nations compound Civilians are arriving in hospitals, after being injured in the clashes
An image grab taken from South Sudan TV, showing South Sudan's President Salva Kiir addressing the nation to denounce an attempted coup. President Kiir has denounced the violence as an attempted coup

Ajak Bullen, a doctor at a military hospital, said at least 66 soldiers had died in the clashes.

"So far, we have lost seven soldiers who died while they were waiting for medical attention and a further 59 who were killed outside," he told local media.

"They are there at the mortuary and we are arranging for a mass burial," he told local radio.

Another hospital, Juba Teaching Hospital, had earlier reported 26 deaths - and it is unclear whether there is any overlap between the figures.

So far the government has only confirmed that 26 people were killed.

It is also unclear whether those who died were fighting for or against the president.

The government says a night-time curfew is in place.

South Sudan is facing its biggest challenge since becoming independent

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called on President Kiir to make "an offer of dialogue" to his opponents to end the fighting, a UN spokesman told reporters.

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

In a statement, Mr Ban called on the government to exercise restraint in the management of the situation.

Up to 13,000 people have fled to UN compounds in Juba to escape the clashes, Mr Ban said.

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

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.

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