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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
A US academic who studies Sudan, Eric Reeves, told the BBC Mr Machar was trying to orchestrate a coup against his rival, with the backing of President Omar Bashir of Sudan. “This has been planned,” he said. “That violence now seems to be part of a co-ordinated coup led by Riek Machar. This changes entirely the complexion of the crisis.” A spokesman for Mr Machar is reported to have rejected this.