South Sudan president orders army to cease hostilities

Author: The Associated Press
Published: Updated:

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) – The president of South Sudan declared a unilateral cease-fire Monday to a conflict that has seen fierce clashes between his army and opposition forces spread from the capital to a southeastern town.

Despite the call by President Salva Kiir, there was no halt in the fighting that began on Thursday in the troubled nation that has been independent for only five years.

The prolonged fighting raised fears that the conflict will spread across South Sudan, drawing in the country’s rival ethnic militias.

Kiir’s announcement of a ceasefire comes after his forces overran an opposition base in Juba and killed 35 bodyguards of former rebel leader Riek Machar, according to opposition officials. Government forces also attacked a U.N. peacekeeping base and camp for civilians who fled the violence.

In response to the fighting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the Security Council to place an immediate arms embargo on South Sudan.

Ban, speaking to reporters Monday, also called for additional sanctions against South Sudan leaders blocking the existing peace deal and the “fortifying” of the U.N. peacekeeping force there.

Earlier Monday massive explosions were heard in Juba’s Tomping neighborhood, which houses a U.N. compound where at least 3,000 civilians have sought shelter.

“It rings through the whole city every time they fire,” said an aid worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to press. “I think one of the tanks must be near me, my ears are burning.”

In addition to the continued battles in Juba, clashes broke out on Monday in the town of Torit in the southeast. There have also been sporadic hostilities in Wau in the west. South Sudan’s civil war broke out in December 2013 after fighting between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups spread across the country.

The two-year civil war killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 2 million. The war exposed South Sudan’s other ethnic divisions; President Kiir’s supporters are largely Dinka and Vice President Riek Machar’s followers are mostly Nuer. The new fighting has raised concerns that the conflict could spread to South Sudan’s other ethnic groups.

“2013 was mostly a fight between the Dinka and Nuer at the local level, but now it’s everyone against everyone and we have no idea where this is going to head,” said Luuk van de Vondervoort, former member of the U.N. panel of experts on South Sudan. “Getting the pieces back together is going to be incredibly, incredibly difficult. You can’t the put the genie back in the bottle now.”

Government forces killed all 35 of Machar’s bodyguards and bombed his house, said Goi Jooyul Yol, a rebel spokesman in Ethiopia, at a press conference in Addis Ababa Monday afternoon.

Much of Monday’s fighting in Juba centered in the Jebel area where there is an opposition camp and another U.N. base where some 28,000 displaced civilians have been sheltering since 2013. Thousands more fled to the camp in the current fighting. The Jebel neighborhood also has several embassies, the airport and an opposition camp.

Government forces overran the opposition base in Jebel on Monday, leaving the opposition forces with only their camp in the Gudele area as a foothold in Juba, said William Gatjiath Deng, opposition spokesman.

Two government helicopters have been bombing areas near the U.N. base while ground forces have shelled the camp which houses tens of thousands of displaced civilians, according to a source within the U.N. compound, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The displaced civilians are mostly of the Nuer ethnic group who sought protection from the U.N. after a series of government-led killings of Nuer in Juba in 2013 which sparked the civil war, according to an African Union commission of inquiry.

Government officials have repeatedly accused the civilians inside the U.N. bases of being rebels or rebel supporters.

U.N. peacekeepers have not protected civilians at the Jebel camp or fired at the troops shelling the base, said the source in the base, who accused the soldiers with U.N. blue helmets of abandoning their positions.

“U.N. peacekeepers, they even run away,” he said. “They are not stopping it.” U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan are mandated to use lethal force to protect civilians under imminent threat in South Sudan.

A government tank fired on a Chinese armored personnel carrier Sunday, an eyewitness in the U.N. base who was not authorized to speak to the press told The Associated Press. Two U.N. peacekeepers from China were killed at the base Sunday night, according to Chinese state media. Video broadcast on Chinese state TV showed smoke rising after the attack and Chinese peacekeepers tending to their wounded.

There were 67 injuries and 8 deaths in the U.N. base Sunday, according to an internal situation report circulated among humanitarian organizations and seen by AP. Water tanks have not been able to bring water to the tens of thousands sheltering inside the base.

The fighting in the capital began Thursday and continued through the weekend, when South Sudan marked its fifth anniversary of independence from Sudan.

President Kiir and former rebel leader Machar signed a peace accord last year and formed an uneasy transitional coalition government. But fighting continued despite the peace agreement and the current clashes in Juba threaten to plunge the parts of South Sudan that had been relatively stable back into violence.

Many of the thousands displaced by the renewed fighting in Juba are seeking shelter at the two U.N. bases, a World Food Program compound and other areas, said U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Matilda Moyo.

The United States told its citizens it would evacuate all non-essential staff from the country. The Canadian embassy has closed entirely, according to a message sent to its citizens. India is planning to evacuate its citizens, according to a tweet by its external affairs minister.

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