Nearly 150 reported killed as South Sudan marks independence

Nearly 150 people were killed in a new outbreak of violence in South Sudan's capital Juba one day before the world's youngest nation marked the fifth anniversary of its independence from Sudan on Saturday, local broadcaster Radio Tamazuj reported.

The morgue of the Juba Teaching Hospital – the main government hospital – had received more than 90 bodies of soldiers and civilians, said a doctor working there, who did not want to be named.

Most of the bodies were male, he told dpa.

Radio Tamazuj put the number of bodies at the hospital at 109 and said that an additional 37 people had also been killed, bringing the total to 146.

Skirmishes broke out between members of the government's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and former rebels with the SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) near the presidential palace where President Salva Kiir was meeting his deputy, former rebel leader Riek Machar on Friday.

Gunfire, grenades and mortars could be heard, according to local media and the UN mission in the country.

Radio Tamazuj said the fighting spread nearly all over the city, and that it was not always clear who was fighting and why.

The UN mission said "several rounds" of fighting had hit its buildings and that hundreds of internally displaced people had fled from their camp to the UN compound.

An army spokesman and a rebel spokesman said they were unable to give casualty figures.

"There are people walking on the streets, but the atmosphere is tense," said Jeremiah Young, an aid worker with World Vision in Juba.

"We are very concerned, as there is a possibility that this could deteriorate," he said by telephone.

Army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang had earlier described the situation as returning "back to normal."

Machar's spokesman James Gatdet blamed the fighting on Kiir's security forces, saying they had opened fire on Machar's bodyguards, the newspaper Sudan Tribune reported.

On Thursday, several people had been killed in clashes between rebels and the military in Juba.

Kiir formed a committee including government and rebel representatives to investigate the violence, local broadcaster Eye Radio reported.

South Sudan, whose 2.5-year civil conflict has led its oil production to plummet, had cancelled independence day celebrations for lack of money.

Radio Tamazuj meanwhile reported fighting in Eastern Equatoria in the south, quoting a resident as saying that there had been shootings at police stations and prisons.

Local resident William Okot told dpa that a police officer had been killed. It was not immediately possible to confirm the reports.

South Sudan declared independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, after two decades of civil war had pitted the Muslim and largely Arab north against the Christian south.

But peace did not last long, with a power struggle between Kiir and Machar escalating into a military conflict in December 2013.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 2 million people, while up to 4.8 million people are facing food insecurity, according to the UN.

Kiir and Machar signed a peace agreement in August 2015. The formation of a transitional unity government in April was due to seal peace, but the renewed fighting dealt a blow to such hopes.

Independent armed groups which occasionally form alliances with the army or the rebels also operate in the country.

The UN mission said it was "outraged" by the new outbreak of fighting, while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that the "humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate at an alarming pace."

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said the fighting was "yet another illustration of the parties' lack of serious commitment to the peace process."

Last update: Sat, 09/07/2016 - 20:54

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