Violent clashes in South Sudan have left up to 500 people dead and 800 wounded, the country’s defence minister said on Wednesday, as fighting between troops loyal to the president and supporters of the former vice president entered their third day.
“A lot of people have lost their lives,” South Sudanese Defence Minister Kuol Manyang told reporters on Wednesday. “The number may go to 400 or 500, soldiers as well as civilians. They include also women; I believe it may also include children."
A diplomat in New York told Reuters on condition of anonymity that two hospitals had recorded between 400 and 500 dead and [up to] 800 wounded,” citing an estimate UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous gave during a closed-door briefing for the 15-member body.
Another diplomat confirmed Ladsous’s remarks, adding that the UN was not in a position to verify the figures.
The Juba government meanwhile said it had arrested 10 major political figures and was hunting for its former vice president, Riek Machar, accusing him of leading a failed coup in the oil-producing country’s capital, where gunfire rang out for a second day.
The prominence of the names of those detained, including former finance minister Kosti Manibe, underlined the size of the rift in Africa’s newest state, less than three years after it seceded from Sudan.
President Salva Kiir, dressed in military fatigues, said on television on Monday that forces loyal to Machar, whom he sacked in July, had attacked an army base in a bid to seize power.
Kiir and Machar are from different ethnic groups that have clashed in the past.
Machar leads a dissident faction inside the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and was planning to run for the presidency, expected to be held in 2015. His whereabouts were unknown, foreign affairs spokesman Mawien Makol Arik told Reuters on Tuesday.
“Those who are still at large will be apprehended,” Information Minister Michael Makuei said in a statement on a government website. He said he believed Machar had fled to an area north of the capital.
Dismay for oil agents
South Sudan is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Africa despite its oil reserves, and it is plagued by ethnic fighting. The country is the size of France but has barely any paved roads. The government’s critics complain it suffers the same ills as old Sudan – corruption, poor public services and repression by the state of opponents and the media.
The rift at the heart of its political elite will dismay oil companies that had been counting on a period of relative stability after South Sudan’s independence so they could step up exploration.
France’s Total and some largely Asian groups, among them China’s CNPC, have interests there. It will also be closely watched by South Sudan’s neighbours, who include some of the continent’s most promising economies, including Ethiopia and Kenya.
Around 16,000 people had taken refuge in UN compounds in Juba by noon on Tuesday and the numbers were rising, the UN said.
Streets were empty at the start of a dawn-to-dusk curfew, ordered by the president. Mobile phone signals were down for a second day.
The US ordered non-essential embassy staff out of the country and said it was suspending normal operations at its embassy.
White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on Twitter: “Deeply, deeply concerned by violence in South Sudan”.
French UN Ambassador Gérard Araud, president of the Security Council this month, told reporters the council was trying to get clarity on the situation in the country and would review the upsurge in violence there in the coming days.
South Sudan’s Machar denies coup allegations
South Sudan's former vice president Riek Machar on Wednesday denied government accusations he tried to stage a coup, saying the president was using the claim as an excuse to purge political rivals.
"What took place in Juba was a misunderstanding between presidential guards within their division, it was not a coup attempt," Machar told the Paris-based Sudan Tribune news website, in his first public comments since fighting broke out on Sunday.
"I have no connection with or knowledge of any coup attempt," he added.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
Date created : 2013-12-18