Clashes in South Sudan capital Juba as troops foil 'attempted coup'

President says capital Juba is under control after fierce fighting forces civilians to flee

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 3:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 3:51am

The president of South Sudan said yesterday he had defeated a coup attempt following a night of fierce fighting between rival troops in Juba, the capital of the newly independent nation.

The clashes broke out in a barracks close to the city centre shortly before midnight and spread across the city, diplomats and witnesses said, adding that heavy machine guns and mortars were used.

The United Nations said hundreds of terrified civilians had sought refuge in a UN compound, while across the city most residents locked themselves in their homes or tried to flee.

President Salva Kiir blamed troops loyal to his arch-rival - former vice-president Riek Machar, who was sacked from the government in July - for starting the "attempted coup" and branded him a "prophet of doom".

"Your government is in full control of the security situation in Juba. The attackers fled and your forces are pursuing them. I promise you justice will prevail," he said in a speech.

"I will not allow or tolerate such incidents once again in our new nation. I strongly condemn these criminal actions in the strongest terms possible," said Kiir, who was dressed in military uniform rather than his trademark suit and cowboy hat.

He said an overnight curfew would be imposed from 6pm to 6am and would remain in force until further notice.

Army spokesman Phil Aguer also said troops loyal to the president were "in control of the situation".

Officials said some arrests were made, but the fate of Machar was unclear, with the US embassy in Juba and the UN denying they had given him shelter. There was also no word on casualties from the fighting.

Machar leads a dissident group within South Sudan's ruling party - the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) - and is seen as the main challenger to Kiir.

Oil-rich but impoverished South Sudan won its independence in 2011 after its people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to split from the north and form a new nation.

But the country has struggled with ethnic violence and corruption and political tensions have worsened in recent weeks.

Earlier this month key SPLM leaders - including Machar and Rebecca Garang, the widow of South Sudan's founding father John Garang - made a public challenge to Kiir, accusing him of being "dictatorial".

Statements from the US and British embassies in Juba urged their nationals to avoid unnecessary movements. The US embassy said there had been "incidents and sporadic gunfire in multiple locations across Juba" throughout the night.

The United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" over the fighting and that it was in contact with South Sudan's leadership.

UN Special Representative Hilde Johnson said: "As the special representative of the secretary general, I urge all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint.

She added: "I have been in touch regularly with the key leaders, including at the highest levels, to call for calm."



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