More than 10 000 South Sudanese, including women and children, have sought refuge in two United Nations compounds in the capital Juba, fleeing heavy fighting between the regular army and troops loyal to rebel leader Riek Machar, according to reports.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Machar has attempted a coup d’etat to overthrow his government, but he has failed as the coup was quashed by security forces who were now in full control of the capital.
TV images broadcast around the world showed terrified residents carrying their belongings and heading to a UN compound to seek shelter from deadly heavy gunfire and explosions.
“The mission is taking every possible step to ensure their safety while they are staying on UNMISS premises”, special representative of the UN secretary-general Hilde Johnson said in a statement.
Both the UN and the US said they were ‘deeply concerned’ by the latest developments and urged the two parties to show restraint. “It is paramount that the current violence does not assume ethnic dimensions,” Johnson added.
Machar is Kiir’s former deputy who was dismissed in July. South Sudan, the oil-rich 54th nation of Africa, has been troubled since day one of its birth, and its trouble include ethnic wars, internal rebellions and military showdown with its northern neighbour, Sudan.
The attempted coup is a manifestation of months of political unrest, which escalated in July when Kiir dismissed Machar, BBC Africa security correspondent Moses Rono said.
Machar and other senior politicians accused the president of intolerance and dictatorship, and in recent weeks, Kiir has warned of attempts to instigate political instability, amid bouts of ethnic violence, Rono added.