Juba – Armed confrontations took place on Thursday and Friday close to the fifth South Sudan Independence Anniversary, which was celebrated on Saturday. The fighting continued on Sunday. Heavy weaponry was exchanged between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar forces outside a United Nations building in Juba. People fear a second civil war.

The UN Mission in South Sudan said that on Sunday at about 08:25 a.m. local time, heavily armed forces attacked each other in the UN House area. The Organization tweeted the events that happened on Sunday through Twitter. They continue to post that the clash between to the opposite forces sustained for about 30 to 40 minutes.  

South Sudan
Displaced people from South Sudan wait to be registered by the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Program. Credit: Voice Of America

Vice President Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, stated that violence started on Thursday evening and by Friday, soldiers loyal to Kiir exchanged heavy gunfire with forces loyal to Machar. Dak said that almost 150 people died in the conflict before a brief peace period was restored on Saturday, which ended with the shootings on Sunday morning. A Health Ministry source told Reuters on Sunday that at least 272 people had been killed, including 33 civilians, so far. An official death toll has not been reported.

The violence took place outside the presidential compound where President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar were discussing the past clashes between their forces.


Both leaders have been in conflict since December 2013, when President Kiir sacked the cabinet and accused Vice-President Machar of planning a coup.

Peace talks are taking place after the UN threat of sanctions to the country. President Kiir signed a peace deal with rebels and by April 2016, Riek Machar returned to Sudan to retake his position as vice president to unite the government led by Salva Kiir.

UN representatives said the heavy exchanges of gunfire happened near the headquarters in the suburb of Jebel, according to the BBC.

One of the tweets posted on Sunday by the UN Mission in South Sudan says that fighting was now “relentless.”

The Sudan Tribune reported that UN officials said that rounds of mortar landed inside their compound in Juba.

Which side started the armed conflict on Sunday?

Mr. Machar’s military spokesman, Col William Gatjiath, told the BBC that President Salva Kiir “was not serious” about the peace agreement. He added that “hundreds” of Machar’s soldiers died on Sunday and troops loyal to the Vice-President were advancing on Juba from different directions.

Forces that support Vice-President Machar say their position in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, were attacked by government troops.

An official response to Col Gatjiath’s statements from the government has not been published, but according to the Sudan Tribune, Presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny claimed in a statement that the new armed encounters were provoked by radical officers of the opposition forces. He added that the government was doing its best to ensure that the general security situation returns to normal.

James Gadet Dak denied the government’s report that their forces launched attacks on government forces and stated that the general headquarters of Machar forces were attacked by government troops who allegedly attempted to dislodge from the area, but were obliged to retreat to the center of the town.

The sound of heavy gunfire was heard in Gudele area and Thonypiny, a residential area close to the airport, the Sudan Tribune reports and says that authorities stated that the cause of the shooting around the airport began by a drunkard soldier who shot into the air. His actions forced other men to fire back to control the situation. Eyewitnesses say heavy artillery and RPGs were used by soldiers who fired randomly and apparently without orders.

Regarding Thursday’s attacks, Reuters reports that violence began when soldiers loyal to Kiir demanded to search vehicles of Machar supporters. On Friday, the conflict erupted when President Machar and Kiir were in talks to defuse tensions between their parties.

These recent confrontations are a clear proof that both the President and the Vice-President have failed to reach the peace that is demanded by the UN.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, said on Friday that the latest conflicts in South Sudan highlighted a lack of commitment to the peace process. He urges the country’s leaders to discipline military commanders and work together to establish peace.

Understanding South Sudan internal conflict

On July 2011, South Sudan became the youngest country in the world when it became independent from Sudan after more than 20 years of guerrilla warfare. The independence war took 1.5 million lives and displaced more than 4 million people.

After two years of independence, a civil war started after President Salva Kiir sacks the cabinet and accuses Vice-President Machar of planning a coup. Machar flees the country, and over 2.2 million people were displaced by the fighting, says the BCC.

The conflict between Kiir and Machar goes back to ethnic lines: Salva Kiir is a Dinka and Machar is a Nuer. Both draw support from their respective tribes.

By 2015, after a threat of sanctions from the UN, President Kiir signed a peace deal with the opposition, and in April 2016, Vice-President Machar returns to South Sudan to start working in the country’s peace.

South Sudan is almost out of money since 2013, because the country depends exclusively on oil revenue and the market went down. The country is facing severe famine, and a UN report says that as payment for their services, government soldiers have reportedly been allowed to rape women.

Source: Reuters