South Sudan politician attempts coup
JUBA // Disgruntled soldiers and politicians led by a former vice president attempted a coup in South Sudan, a top government official said yesterday.
The country was subject to sporadic fighting between factions of the military in the latest violence to hit the world’s youngest nation.
Some troops within the main army base raided the weapons store in the capital, Juba, but were repulsed, said Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the South Sudanese foreign minister.
The military said the situation in Juba was tense but unlikely to get worse.
Some politicians had been arrested, he said, but could not confirm if the former vice president, Riek Machar – who he said led the attempted coup – was among those in detention.
South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, had ordered a dawn-to-dusk curfew, he said.
Explosions and scattered gunfire rang out early yesterday in Juba amid repeated clashes between factions of the military, according to Col Philip Aguer, the South Sudan military spokesman.
The United Nations mission in South Sudan reported the sound of mortar and heavy machine-gun fire. It said hundreds of civilians had sought refuge inside UN facilities.
Tension had been mounting since Mr Kiir fired Mr Machar as his deputy in July. Mr Machar, who has expressed a willingness to contest the presidency in 2015, said after he was fired that if the country was to be united it could not tolerate a “one man’s rule or dictatorship.”
His removal, part of a dismissal of the entire cabinet by Mr Kiir, had followed reports of a power struggle within the ruling party. At the time, the United States and the European Union urged calm amid fears the dismissals could spark political upheaval in the country.
While Mr Kiir is the leader of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party, many of the dismissed ministers, including Mr Machar, were key figures in the rebel movement that fought a decades-long war that led to South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011.
The local Sudan Tribune newspaper reported that military clashes erupted on Sunday between members of the presidential guard, in fighting that seemed to pit soldiers from Mr Kiir’s Dinka tribe against those from the Nuer tribe of Mr Machar.
In a message to American citizens on Monday, the US Embassy in Juba said it had received “reports from multiple reliable sources of continuing security incidents and sporadic gunfire in multiple locations”.
“The US Embassy has not been able to confirm that gunfire and insecurity have fully ceased,” the message said. “The embassy recommends that all US citizens exercise extra caution at all times. ”
Hilde Johnson, the UN secretary general’s special representative for South Sudan, said the UN mission in Juba was “deeply concerned” about the fighting.
“I have been in touch regularly with the key leaders, including at the highest levels to call for calm,” she said.
South Sudan has experienced bouts of ethnic violence since the country peacefully broke away from Sudan after a civil war.
* Associated Press
Published: December 16, 2013 04:00 AM