Monday 23 October 2017

Irish citizen on lockdown in South Sudan as violent gun battles rage

Journalists are seen on the podium following sounds of gun shots before a news conference by South Sudan President Salva Kiir, First Vice President Riek Machar and other government officials in Juba (inset: Feargal O'Connell)
Journalists are seen on the podium following sounds of gun shots before a news conference by South Sudan President Salva Kiir, First Vice President Riek Machar and other government officials in Juba (inset: Feargal O'Connell)
Feargal O’Connell

Catherine Devine & Louise Kelly

An Irish citizen is on lockdown in the capital of South Sudan as violent gun battles erupted on Friday.

Concern Country Director Feargal O'Connell from Dublin is currently seeking refuge from the violence with six other Concern staff at their headquarters in Juba.

“There’s very intense fighting happening at the moment. The windows here at the Concern offices were all shaking a minute ago as an explosion went off nearby,” Feargal told Independent.ie.

“There’s small arm fire and large artillery explosions at the moment here in Juba.

“Our immediate concern is that all our staff is safe. We’re checking in with each other as often as possible and we’re trying to provide as much information as possible to keep everyone safe,” he said.

Two other Irish citizens working with Concern are in "field" locations outside the capital of the world's newest country, now five years in existence and troubled with civil war since 2013.

The clashes follow days of fighting between supporters of President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar.

Both men have said they did not know what had triggered the latest violence between their factions.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the leaders must take "decisive action" to regain control of security and urged them to order their forces to disengage and withdraw to their bases.

"I am deeply frustrated that despite commitments by South Sudan's leaders, fighting has resume," Ban said in a statement. "This senseless violence is unacceptable and has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process."

The death toll from fighting in Juba has climbed to 272 people, including 33 civilians, a source at the country's ministry of health told Reuters on Sunday.

The violence has raised fears of renewed instability with a 2015 peace deal failing to stop the unrest.

The country was plagued with a civil war in 2013 which killed tens of thousands and displaced two million people.

Feargal told Independent.ie that he “wouldn’t be surprised if hundreds had been killed in the recent violence”.

Concern Worldwide has 260 staff in South Sudan at present.

Four Concern staff have already been relocated to Nairobi and many others are seeking refuge in their offices and homes.

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