Scramble to flee South Sudan capital Juba as fears of rebel attack grow

Thousands pack belongings onto planes, cars and motorbikes as world leaders call for an end to the violence it is feared will sweep into capital

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 5:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 5:04am


The dusty roads in South Sudan's capital Juba are jammed, with vehicles of every type surrounding the bus station as people hunt desperately for transport to flee feared rebel attacks on the city.

Trucks and pick-ups loaded with passengers - mainly children, women and the elderly - squeeze into every free space.

Crammed in between those fleeing is what they can carry of their possessions - bulging suitcases and mattresses, or plastic jerry cans, pots and pans.

"We are looking for a vehicle for hire to go and take us home," said Wani Francis, bargaining with drivers at the bustling bus park in the searing heat.

Fighting has calmed in Juba since clashes broke out between army factions last week, but violence has escalated elsewhere in the country, and many fear rebels may try to attack the capital.

Military vehicles patrol through Juba fully loaded with soldiers, while troops remain at posts or checkpoints in strategic junctions and key buildings throughout the town.

Some foreign countries, including the US and Britain have sent in special military flights.

"Two military flights have now departed Juba transporting British nationals who wanted to leave South Sudan," Britain's foreign office said on Saturday, urging those who remained to leave. World leaders have stepped up calls for South Sudan's feuding politicians to end the fighting that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war, after four US servicemen were wounded when their aircraft came under fire.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called yesterday for an immediate end to the violence in the country, where the death toll is mounting from fighting between rival forces loyal to the president and his sacked deputy.

"I demand that all political, military and militia leaders stop hostilities and end the violence against the civilians," Ban said.

He called on President Salva Kiir and his rival, former vice- president Riek Machar, to "find a political way out of this crisis" and order their followers to lay down their arms.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama had warned against a coup attempt. "Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of longstanding support from the United States and the international community," the White House said on Saturday.

While foreigners have been catching flights to escape, for South Sudanese the only way out is to find an increasingly expensive space on a vehicle.

The road north from Juba heads towards the rebel-held town of Bor. Towards the south, the road heads towards Uganda, winding upstream along the lush banks and tumbling waters of the White Nile river.

Trundling down the road is a long procession of vehicles, from large buses to small cars, as thousands take the chance to leave the city while they can.

Some travellers hire a whole vehicle to transport their families, while others who can't afford the rising prices load their luggage - even including mattresses - onto a motorbike and then hire another to travel alongside.

Businessmen are taking advantage of the demand, with bus fares nearly doubling.

Thousands have fled in the past three days, with trucks that normally carry heavy loads of goods now parking on the streets for passengers to board. Not everyone is fleeing. In a land that has suffered for so long from war, some refuse to think that things could get worse.

"I'm shopping for Christmas," said Taban John, showing off his gift purchases - a shirt, two pairs of trousers and a belt.

"I am not going to leave Juba. When it comes to Christmas, it is the time when you know you just have to carry on."