S Sudan says coup defeated after heavy fighting
17 December 2013, 10:37
Juba - South Sudan's president announced on Monday he had defeated a coup attempt following a night of fierce fighting between rival troops in the capital of the world's youngest 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. They said heavy machine guns and mortars were used.
The United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" over the fighting, which sent hundreds of terrified civilians to a UN compound in search of refuge.
Across the city residents locked themselves in their homes or tried to flee to safer areas, an AFP reporter said.
The latest violence in the struggling nation also raised alarm in Washington, which said it was closely watching the "very fluid situation".
President Salva Kiir blamed troops loyal to his arch-rival, former vice president Riek Machar, who was sacked from the government in July. He branded him a "prophet of doom" and vowed to bring him to justice.
"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," the president said in a televised address to the nation.
He said an overnight curfew would be imposed from 18:00 to 06:00 (1500 to 0300 GMT), and would remain in force until further notice. A diplomat in the city said troops loyal to the president had been posted at major intersections, while civil aviation sources said that Juba airport had been shut.
"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.
Army spokesperson Phil Aguer also told local radio that troops loyal to the president were "in control of the situation".
Kiir also assured the president of neighbouring Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, of the "stability of the security situation" in Juba, in a telephone conversation between the two leaders, the official news agency in Khartoum reported.
Al-Bashir "underscored the importance of security and stability in South Sudan... for the interest of the two sister nations," SUNA reported.
The UN-backed local radio, Miraya FM, reported seven people dead and more than 100 wounded from the fighting.
A senior government official said a number of arrests had been made, and that several former ministers were among those detained.
But the fate of Machar was unclear - with the US embassy in Juba and the UN dismissing speculation they had given him shelter.
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. The rivals hail from different ethnic groups and had in the past fought on different sides during Sudan's civil war.
Civilians take refuge
Oil-rich but poor, 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. As the curfew was imposed, an AFP reporter said the situation was mostly calm. Mobile telephone networks and many landlines were apparently shut down.
Washington urged parties involved in the fighting to "resolve their differences through peaceful means".
"It's a very fluid situation. We're going to keep monitoring it. Our paramount concern is the security and safety of US citizens abroad," said State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf.
United Nations Special Representative Hilde Johnson urged "all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint".
A spokesperson for the UN mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, said hundreds of civilians - most of them women and children - had sought shelter at a UN compound.
"We have more than 800 civilians who came into our compound adjacent to the airport, mostly women and children. Among them are seven wounded, including a two-year-old boy in a critical condition," Joseph Contreras told AFP.
"While UNMISS is not a humanitarian operator, and our mandate is to protect civilians, basic water supplies and medical treatment are being provided. We hope the security situation in Juba will quickly normalise to enable the civilians to return very soon to their residential areas," UNMISS said in a statement.