At least 12 buses from Kampala are stuck at Nimule border town following hours of heavy fighting in the South Sudan capital, Juba. Air Uganda and Kenya Airways have cancelled their scheduled flights to Juba amid reports that the Juba Airport has been closed.
Willy Katende, spokesperson of the bus drivers association, who is now at Nimule, says the buses arrived at Nimule between 4am and 7:30am on Monday, but were not allowed to cross the border into South Sudan. Katende says there is no vehicle going in or out of South Sudan at the moment.
He says the buses that should have left Juba are still stuck in the Capital where fighting is still ongoing.
The fighting broke out at about 10pm on Sunday in what appears to be a widening split between President Salva Kiir and sacked vice president Riek Machar. According Sudan Tribune, the clashes were started by the Presidential Guard forces, the ‘Tiger Special Force’ in the Old Military Barracks which is in the city centre. Reports show that a faction of soldiers largely from the Nuer tribe grew suspicious of military deployments around them of a faction that is largely Dinka. The fighting started at 10pm on Sunday. President Kiir is a Dinka by tribe while Dr Machar hails from the Nuer.
But South Sudan army, SPLA spokesperson Phillip Aguer in a phone interview with Radio Miraya says they have not established the identity of the fighting forces but continue to pursue them with all the force available to them. The army has also started door-to-door searches for ammunition and the fighting forces.
Air Uganda and Kenya Airways have cancelled their scheduled flights to Juba amid reports that the Juba Airport has been closed. The two airline companies confirmed on Twitter that they had called off their flights till further notice. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that Rumbek Airport in Lake State has been closed.
The violence is said to have been sparked off by infighting between forces loyal to Machar, who is the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Vice Chairman and those loyal to President Salva Kiir in the Old Military barracks in Juba. The fighting is reported to have escalated to the streets.
So far neither President Kiir nor Dr Machar has made a statement in regards to the continued gun battle in Juba. The two have been in a delicate alliance for two years since the country gained independence in July 2011. In July this year, Kiir dismissed Machar from office and replaced him with James Wani Igga after the two disagreed on the style of leadership.
Two days ago, senior leaders of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced that they were pulled out from the meeting of the National Liberation Council (NLC), accusing party chairman, President Kiir, of deviating from the spirit of dialogue.
The Sudan Tribune reports that senior members of the SPLM highest executive organ, the Political Bureau (PB), including deputy chairman Riek Machar, as well as members of the NLC announced that Kiir has not replicated their “good gesture for dialogue” on democracy in the party.
Earlier on Friday, the group announced the postponement of a public rally that had been due to take place on Saturday in order to inform the wider public about the party’s current affairs. Machar said the decision came following calls from SPLM supporters to postpone both the rally and NLC meeting in order to allow more time for internal political dialogue on contentious issues affecting the party.
While the rally was subsequently postponed until 20 December, the NLC meeting went ahead as planned. Machar and his colleagues had attended the first day of the NLC meeting on Saturday, where they participated in deliberations on the passing of the manifesto and the constitution.
A local journalist in Juba, Richard Ruati, says there have been no gunshots in the past 40 minutes in Juba.
The US embassy has also in a written statement responded to earlier reports that Riek Machar had taken shelter at their embassy saying the reports are not true. The UN mission in South Sudan has also released a statement calling for the warring factions to exercise maximum restraint and cease the hostilities immediately.
Hilde Johnson, the UN mission special representative, says she has been in contact with all the top officials in South Sudan to call for calm.