Sunday 24 September 2017

South Sudan army loses town, up to 500 killed

South Sudan President Salva Kiir (AP)
South Sudan President Salva Kiir (AP)

South Sudan's army has said it lost control of the flashpoint town of Bor, its first acknowledged reversal in three days of clashes between rival groups of soldiers that have triggered warnings of a slide into civil war.

President Salva Kiir earlier said he was ready for dialogue with his sacked vice president Riek Machar - the man he accuses of starting the fighting, which diplomats say has killed up to 500 people, and plotting a coup.

But the United Nations said tensions was still spreading across South Sudan's remote states as the violence, which first erupted in the capital Juba late on Sunday, moved north to Bor, the site of an ethnic massacre in 1991.

Witnesses and officials said fighting had broken out in two barracks in Bor between troops loyal to Kiir, from South Sudan's Dinka ethnic group, and Machar, a Nuer, though the reports were sketchy.

"We (are) not in control of Bor town," South Sudan's army spokesman Philip Aguer told Reuters, without going into further details.

"The two main ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, could go into a full-fledged civil war in the country," Gerard Araud, France's ambassador to the United Nations and current president of the Security Council, told the BBC. He called for dialogue.

Those sentiments were echoed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said the violence could spread.

South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011, remains one of Africa's least developed countries for all its oil reserves, which supply almost all its government revenues and hard currency. Fighting has so far appeared to stay away from the oil fields.

A broader conflict could threaten aid and be exploited by neighbouring Sudan, which has had persistent rows with Juba over their undefined borders, oil and security. That would further hurt efforts to build a functioning state in the south.

MACHAR DENIES COUP

Machar, in an interview with the online Sudan Tribune, denied having any role in the fighting and said he was not behind any coup attempt. He accused Kiir of using clashes that erupted between members of the presidential guard to punish political rivals.

Machar said he was still in South Sudan but did not give details of his location.

The fighting has revived memories of the factionalism in the 1990s within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - the group that fought Sudan's army in the north for two decades.

Machar led a splinter faction and south-south clashes erupted. Nuer soldiers loyal to Machar massacred hundreds of Dinka in Bor in 1991.

The president sacked Machar in July and political tensions have been simmering since.

Kiir told a news conference on Wednesday he was ready for talks.

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