South Sudan clashes spread beyond Juba, UK withdraws embassy staff

The United Nations received reports from local sources in South Sudan that between 400 and 500 people had been killed and up to 800 wounded in the latest violence, and the government said it had arrested 10 politicians in connection with a "foiled coup".

By Supriya Jha | Last Updated: Dec 18, 2013, 21:11 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha

Juba: As the fighting triggered by a failed coup bid on Sudan President Salva Kiir expanded beyong the capital city of Juba, the British Foreign Office said on Wednesday that it was withdrawing some of its embassy staff from South Sudan.

However, the British embassy in Juba wil remain open, reports said.

The clashes among the rival military factions in South Sudan, that are said to have claimed hundreds of lives, are basically along `ethnic lines’ and could escalate into a civil war, warned the president of United Nations Security Council.

South Sudan, which has been mired in clashes since last two days, could descend into a civil war, the president of the UN Security Council told the BBC.

The death toll from the clashes between two rival military groups has claimed over 400-500 lives, as per UN diplomats, who cited the estimate given by chief of United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous.

Also over 800 are said to have been injured in the fightings.

The clashes are reportedly not targeting the civilians and only soldiers are involved so far.

Heavy gunfire and fighting have been erupting since Sunday after a failed coup bid by the former Vice President Riek Machar, said South Sudan President Salva Kiir.

Kiir said that the violence erupted after the soldiers loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar aiming to topple the government, tried to storm the army barracks` weapons store but had o bite dust as the current president’s loyalists defeated them. After which Kiir imposed a curfew in Juba.

The government has said that 10 major political figures have been held so far and a hunt is on for the ex-vice president.

The president, who belongs to Dinka’s tribe, had fired Machar (of Neur tribe) in July amid a power struggle.

Hence the clashes between the two rival military soldiers’ groups are said to be taking place along ethnic lines, UN diplomats said.

Reacting to President Salva Kiir`s accusations that there was a coup bid attempted on him, former Vice President of South Sudan Reik Machar rubbished the allegation saying he had nothing to do with the clashes and did not try to topple the government, reports said Tuesday.

Talking to the BBC, Reik Machar, who had fallen out with the President in July, said that Salva Kiir had incited "tribal and ethnic violence" to hide his shortcomings.

As the violence spiralled, tens of thousands of civilians took shelter in the UN mission in Juba.

According to the president of the Security Council, French Ambassador Gerard Araud, over 20,000 people had taken to the UN mission for safety.

Reacting to the reports of clashes, the United States directed Americans to leave South Sudan immediately.

The US Embassy that suspended its normal operations, said in an advisory that the US citizens in South Sudan "should review their personal security situation and seriously reconsider their plans."

Speaking in Manila, Philippines, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the warring sides to resolve the dispute peacefully.

"Political differences need to be resolved by peaceful and democratic means. The government should respect the rule of law and the people of South Sudan should be able to realize their full potential," Kerry said.

The US National Security Advisor Susan Rice expressed her concerns in a tweet saying that the situation in Sudan was of deep concern.

Urging everyone to immediately cease the clashes, the UN chief’s office issued a statement saying that Ban Ki-moon is "deeply concerned" about "the risk of targeted violence against certain communities."