Hundreds killed as South Sudan on brink of new war
Heavy fighting involving tanks and helicopters raged in South Sudan yesterday between troops loyal to the president and those backing the vice president, risking a return to civil war and further instability in a volatile region of Africa.
Clashes between the forces of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar - the former rebel leader who became vice president under a deal that ended a two-year civil war - have killed hundreds of people since they broke out in the capital Juba four days ago.
The violence intensified yesterday - one witness saw two helicopters overhead firing in the direction of Machar's headquarters, while residents reported tanks on the street.
A United Nations official said heavy gunfire had erupted around UN bases where hundreds of civilians have fled to shelter. The fighting broke out last week as the world's newest nation prepared to mark five years of independence from Sudan at the weekend.
The UN Security Council on Sunday demanded that Kiir and Machar rein in their forces and end the clashes.
It was not immediately clear what the objective of either side was, but the violence has raised fears of a return to the civil war that erupted in late 2013 and broadly ran along ethnic lines, pitting Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against Machar, a Nuer.
The conflict killed thousands of people, forced more than 2.5 million people from their homes and left almost half the population of 11 million people struggling to find food. Oil production, by far the biggest source of government revenue, has plummeted.
A new flare-up risks driving yet more people to refugee camps in bordering nations and further destabilising a region in the centre of Africa already plagued by myriad woes.
The neighbouring Central African Republic is riven by conflict, the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo is contending with a patchwork of militias and rebel groups, and Burundi is embroiled in a violent political crisis.
Much is unclear about the latest violence in Juba, where mobile communication is unreliable and officials have proved difficult to contact. It is not yet known if either side is gaining an upper hand or how much control Kiir and Machar have over their forces.
Machar blamed the president for a heavy helicopter bombardment of his forces yesterday.
"This tells [us] that our partner is not interested in peace," he wrote on Twitter.