Juba: Violence in South Sudan is spreading, the UN said today, worsening a crisis that has seen hundreds killed this week in fierce fighting and prompting the US to evacuate Americans and other foreigners. There were fears the poor and unstable nation, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, could topple back into civil war.
Thousands of terrified civilians have fled their homes since Sunday to seek protection at UN bases. South Sudan`s Red Cross reported at least 19 civilians killed in new clashes between rival army factions that have now spread outside the capital Juba, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told journalists in New York on today.
He said the fighting occurred in Bor, capital of Jonglei state, and that tensions were rising in other states.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir has blamed the bloodshed on an attempted coup bid by his arch-rival, former vice president Riek Machar.
Kiir said today he was ready to "sit down" with Machar to try to resolve the crisis. But Machar, who was sacked by the president in July and is now a fugitive, denied any coup attempt.
"Kiir wanted to use the alleged coup attempt in order to get rid of us," Machar told the Paris-based Sudan Tribune website in his first public remarks since the fighting erupted.
Death and casualty tolls were not available for the country. But "there is a heavy toll, it is obvious," UN Security Council president Gerard Araud told reporters in New York.
In Juba, shooting early in the day gave way to a lull later on, but residents remained scared. Many of them had spent the past two days barricaded in their homes, too afraid to move.
Others used pauses in the sporadic and often intense battles to flee to safer areas, including UN bases, despite Kiir`s pleas that they return to their homes.