South Sudan: Clashes erupt in Juba hours after UN plea

Helicopter gunship flying over Juba 11/07/2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Government helicopter gunships were seen over Juba on Monday

Renewed fighting has broken out in South Sudan between forces loyal to the president and vice-president.

A reporter in the capital, Juba, told the BBC gunfire and large explosions could be heard all over the city. He said heavy artillery was being used.

More than 200 people are reported to have died in clashes since Friday.

The latest violence came hours after the UN Security Council called on the warring factions to immediately stop the fighting.

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'We want peace - and ice cream'

Five obstacles to peace

In a unanimous statement, the council condemned the violence "in the strongest terms" and expressed "particular shock and outrage" at attacks on UN sites. It also called for additional peacekeepers to be sent to South Sudan.

Residents of Juba have told the BBC they are staying indoors amid the sound of gunfire from the streets.

"Soldiers are now looting some property," charity worker Ladu David Morris said. "They pretend to be patrolling but once they notice that no people are inside they break in."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Chinese TV showed pictures of an injured peacekeeper receiving treatment

Questions of command: James Copnall, BBC South Sudan analyst

The peace deal signed last August brought the two rival military forces together in the capital Juba. Even at the time this looked risky.

Perhaps if political progress had been made since Riek Machar returned to Juba in April, tensions between the forces could have been smoothed over, but the implementation of the peace agreement stalled. Each side clearly regarded the other as an existential threat.

Riek Machar seems to be in a weaker position right now: he has 1,300 soldiers, and some police, but no air power, tanks or heavy weapons - unlike his rival. There must also be questions about how much ammunition Mr Machar's troops have.

Another key question: to what extent are Salva Kiir and Riek Machar in command? Both called for calm on Friday, but the fighting still continued. And will the fighting spread beyond the capital? The longer this lasts, and the further it spreads, the harder it will be to stop it.

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Media captionJapan's Ambassador to the United Nations, Koro Bessho: "The Security Council members urged an immediate end to the fighting"

Chinese media say two Chinese UN peacekeepers have now died in Juba. Several other peacekeepers have been injured, as well as a number of civilians who have been caught in crossfire.

The latest round of violence erupted when troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar began shooting at each other in the streets of Juba.

On Monday, there were reports of tanks on the streets of Juba and clashes close to the airport and UN camps sheltering civilians. The US embassy warned of "serious fighting" taking place.

A BBC correspondent in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, said it was not clear if Mr Kiir and Mr Machar remained in control of their forces.

On Monday afternoon, soldiers loyal to Mr Kiir were ordered back to barracks, a spokesman for the force told the BBC. However, he did not comment on whether this meant the fighting was over.

Why has fighting resumed?

It seems a disagreement at a checkpoint between rival soldiers led to a shootout on Thursday night in which five soldiers died. This quickly escalated into serious fighting from Friday onwards. Tensions have been high since April, when Mr Machar returned to Juba under a peace deal following a two-year civil war. He took a 1,300-strong protection force with him and they were supposed to start joint patrols with forces loyal to President Kiir. But a lack of trust between the two sides means the patrols have not begun.

Will it become a new civil war?

There are concerns that what we are seeing is a repeat of what happened in December 2013. The two-year civil war started then after clashes between rival soldiers in Juba and degenerated into nationwide conflict in which tens of thousands died. The war was fought broadly between South Sudan's biggest ethnic groups - the Dinka, led by Mr Kiir, and the Nuer, under Mr Machar. At present, Mr Kiir and Mr Machar are calling for calm.

What can the international community do?

The international community played a major role in the creation of South Sudan and has tried to exercise some influence since independence in 2011. The UN and US have called for an immediate end to fighting, a call echoed by the East African regional group which brokered the recent peace deal.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Machar spoke on television following renewed clashes in Juba

A UN spokeswoman in Juba, Shantal Persaud, said fighting over the past few days had caused hundreds of internally displaced people to take refuge in UN premises.

She said both South Sudanese leaders were responsible for implementing last year's peace agreement, which included a permanent ceasefire and the deployment of forces away from Juba.

Information Minister Michael Makuei told the BBC that the situation in the city was "under full control" and civilians who had fled should return to their homes.

Mr Machar's military spokesman, Col William Gatjiath, accused officials loyal to the president of lying, and said there had been at least 10 hours of clashes on Sunday.

"The situation in South Sudan is uncontrollable because Salva Kiir and his followers are not ready to follow the peace agreement," he said.

The chairman of Igad, the East African regional bloc that has overseen peace talks in South Sudan, warned on Monday that the situation risked exposing millions of civilians "to senseless violence and the whole country to interminable chaos".

In a statement on Sunday, the US state department said it strongly condemned the latest outbreak of fighting in Juba.

Spokesman John Kirby said Washington had ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel from the US embassy in Juba.

Image caption There is no dominant culture in South Sudan - the Dinka and the Nuer are the largest of more than 60 ethnic groups, each with its own language and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam

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