Juba: At least 500 people, most of them soldiers, have been killed in South Sudan since Sunday, a senior government official said as an ethnic rivalry threatened to tear apart the world`s newest country.
Some of the victims "were shot in the bushes" around Juba, the capital, Information Minister Micheal Makuei Lueth said on Wednesday, citing a report from the minister of defence.
He said up to 700 others had been wounded.
The clashes apparently are pitting soldiers from the majority Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir against those from ousted Vice President Riek Machar`s Nuer ethnic group.
South Sudan has been plagued by ethnic violence since it peacefully broke away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.
Machar is now the subject of manhunt by the country`s military after he was identified by Kiir as the leader of an alleged coup attempt on Sunday. Machar has denied he was behind any coup attempt.
The fighting began Sunday in the capital under circumstances that are still unclear, but the city was mostly calm Wednesday amid a heavy security presence.
South Sudanese military spokesman Col Philip Aguer said there was fighting early Wednesday among troops in Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, and he was trying to confirm reports there of desertions from the military. "We are cautiously monitoring the situation," he said. "We don`t know who is fighting who."
Casie Copeland, the South Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group who is in Juba, said key Nuer leaders in the army were defecting in Jonglei but that "events that led to Sunday`s fighting remain unclear."
She said parts of Juba have been reduced to rubble by the fighting of the past few days.
UN diplomats in New York said yesterday that as many as 500 people have been killed in the violence since Sunday but didn`t describe how they arrived at that number. Copeland said earlier that she had heard of casualty figures that exceeded 500, but that included both the dead and the wounded.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew was in place in Juba and a reporter saw a heavy police and army presence on its streets. EgyptAir said it resumed its flights to Juba following a three-day suspension.