Civilians flee fighting in February when gunmen opened fire at a U.N. camp.
Civilians flee fighting in February when gunmen opened fire at a U.N. camp.


South Sudan’s information minister says the government is “in full control” of the capital, Juba, despite the United Nations reporting that the weekend’s deadly violence had carried into Sunday.

Church services were interrupted by fighting between troops loyal to the president and those backing the vice president, but the violence has since subsided, Information Minister Micheal Makuei Lueth told South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation.

“At present, the situation is calm. The situation is normal. Juba town is under full control of the government,” he said, later refining his remarks to say that the government was not in control of some other areas.

Lueth said President Salva Kiir would issue a permanent and unilateral ceasefire before day’s end and urged his rival, Vice President Riek Machar, to do the same “because we want to save the lives of the people of South Sudan.”

How many have been killed in fighting between factions loyal to Kiir and Machar is unclear. Though one estimate puts the death toll close to 150, other reports indicate more than 270 have been killed. CNN is working to confirm an exact death toll.

After a day of relative calm, gunfire from “heavy weaponry” was exchanged for much of Sunday outside a U.N. building on the outskirts of Juba, the U.N. mission to the country said.

The mission sent out a series of tweets at about 8:25 a.m. (1:25 a.m. ET) describing “gunshots” and a “heavily armed exchange” outside a U.N. compound.

The U.S. Embassy issued an alert saying that fighting between government and opposition forces was ongoing at the U.N. mission’s headquarters, the Jebel area of the city and near the airport.

The U.N. mission in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, said it was “outraged at the resumption of violence” on Sunday. It said that 1,000 internally displaced people had fled its protection as violence hit areas near their camps.

“Both UNMISS compounds in Juba have sustained impacts from small arms and heavy weapons fire. The United Nations urges all parties to respect the sanctity of the United Nations and condemns any deliberate targeting of United Nations premises and its personnel,” it said in a statement.

‘The most horrifying Independence Day’

Juba has been racked with deadly violence this week, as the country on Saturday marked its fifth year of independence.

The weekend violence erupted when Kiir and Machar were meeting to discuss previous clashes between their forces. Outside the presidential compound where the meeting took place, a gunbattle kicked off.

Pockets of violence had broken out on Thursday evening, and by Friday, soldiers loyal to Kiir exchanged heavy gunfire with others backing Machar, in a bloody skirmish that left almost 150 people dead by Saturday, according to Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak. CNN has been unable to independently verify the exact death toll.

“South Sudan today marked the most horrifying Independence Day in the world this year,” Dak wrote in a post on Facebook.

It appeared that calm had been restored by late Saturday, but Sunday’s gunfire showed tensions are still stirring.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Kiir and Machar to order their forces back to their bases, saying the “senseless violence” threatened to jeopardize the peace process.

“United Nations compounds and protection of civilians sites in Juba have been caught in the cross-fire,” he said. “They must take decisive action to regain control of the security situation in Juba; prevent the spread of violence to other parts of the country; guarantee the safety and security of civilians, United Nations and other personnel; and genuinely commit themselves to the full implementation of the peace agreement.”

Helicopters, gunships, tanks

The U.N. Security Council in a statement on Saturday strongly condemned the days of violence, which also saw U.N. and diplomatic officials targeted. It called on the transitional government “to quickly investigate these attacks, take steps to end the fighting, reduce tensions, and hold those responsible for the attacks to account.” It also confirmed an investigation committee had been formed.

The statement emphasized the importance of command and control and called on the warring factions and “armed actors” to allow the U.N. mission and humanitarian organizations to access civilians in need.
The Security Council will hold closed door consultations on South Sudan before midnight, according to its schedule.

The Indian Embassy in South Sudan advised its citizens “not to panic” and to stay indoors. Many of the UNMISS staff members are Indian nationals.

A U.N. base was attacked last week.

“We heard heavy artillery fire at the U.N. (base), and that continued for about an hour or so and then stopped. It was coming form the outer perimeters of the compound,” said Shantal Persaud, acting spokeswoman for the U.N. mission.

Helicopter gunships were seen in the sky, and tanks rumbled through the streets. Under the peace deal, both government and opposition troops were stationed in Juba, a plan which many criticized because it put both forces in close proximity.

Command-and-control breakdown

“What we may be seeing is a total breakdown of command and control in Juba,” said Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “We need to watch carefully for whether a cycle of reprisal killings by either side begins in the next few days.”

Kenya Airways, which operates two flights a day to Juba, said it was suspending all flights to the city because of an “uncertain security situation,” while Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all travel to South Sudan, saying “the security situation in Juba has deteriorated” since Friday.

Two weeks ago, fighting in the western city of Wau between government and opposition troops displaced at least 70,000, according to the United Nations.

The country is nearly out of money because its funds come almost exclusively from oil revenue — the value of which has plummeted. People have become desperate. In lieu of payment, government soldiers have reportedly been allowed to rape women, a U.N. report said.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011 after 98% of the population voted to break away from Sudan. The East African nation, the youngest country in the world, quickly fell into civil war that took on ethnic undertones.

In December 2013, soldiers from Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group tried to disarm Nuer soldiers perceived to be loyal to Machar. Soldiers targeted Nuer civilians in the ensuing fighting, Human Rights Watch says.
The civil war was gruesome — at least 50,000 were killed, more than 2 million displaced, and nearly 5 million people faced severe food shortages. Under a peace deal signed in August, Kiir is the president of the country and Machar is the first vice president, but the fighting hasn’t stopped.

As reported by CNN