A ceasefire in South Sudan’s capital appeared to hold for a second straight day Wednesday after intense fighting that killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. No gunfire or artillery was heard in Juba and evacuation flights for foreign nationals were able to leave the international airport, although commercial flights were yet to resume.
“No gunshots today. I have seen no tank, no helicopter,” said a city resident who did not want to be named. “There are a lot of soldiers and policemen in the streets patrolling.”
More people emerged but many remain cautious after four days of heavy fighting that began in earnest on Friday evening, took a pause on Saturday—the young country’s fifth independence anniversary—and resumed Sunday and Monday.
The death toll from Sunday’s and Monday’s battles is not yet known but around 300 were killed in just a few hours on Friday. Adama Dieng, the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, said some civilians “were reportedly targeted based on their ethnicity”.
African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called the situation in South Sudan “totally unacceptable”. The United Nations said around 36,000 people had fled their homes for the perceived safety of UN bases, churches and aid agency compounds.
Two Chinese UN peacekeepers were killed and others wounded. The fighting was heaviest in an area called Jebel to the west of the city where ex-rebels had a military base close to a UN camp for people previously uprooted in the civil war.
The violence marks a fresh blow to last year’s deal for ending the conflict, which erupted in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup.
Kiir is a member of the Dinka tribe, while Machar is a Nuer, and the dispute has split the country along ethnic lines. The August 2015 agreement paved the way for Machar’s return to the capital in late April to take up the deputy post again in a so-called unity government.
Machar was permitted to return with around 1,400 lightly-armed former rebel soldiers and Kiir was supposed to retain no more than 3,400 armed forces, with the city being otherwise “demilitarised”. However, during fighting on Sunday and Monday tanks, helicopter gunships and anti-aircraft guns were all deployed to bombard Machar’s positions. -AFP