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Fighting erupts in South Sudan capital again after UN had asked for restraint yesterday

The fighting first erupted on Thursday, when troops loyal to Kiir stopped and demanded they be allowed to search vehicles being driven by Machar loyalists. The two leaders had fought each other in a two-year civil war that started in late 2013, Photograph: (AFP)

Reuters Juba, South Sudan Jul 10, 2016, 03.35 PM (IST)

Fighting and gunfire erupted in South Sudan's capital on Monday a day after the UN Security Council told rivals President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar to rein in their forces and end days of violence.

Scores of people have been killed in the fighting which first erupted on Thursday between Kiir loyalists and supporters of Machar, who led rebels during a two-year civil war. Renewed clashes have raised fears of a return to full-blown conflict.

On Sunday,  a spokesperson for Vice-President Riek Machar said his residence was attacked by the president's troops. At least 272, including 33 civilians, have been killed in the fighting, a health ministry source said on Sunday.

There was no immediate response from the government of President Salva Kiir to the statement by Machar's spokesman. Earlier, Kiir's information minister, Michael Makuei, said the situation was under control and urged people to stay at home.

The two leaders, who fought each other in a two-year civil war that started in late 2013, had made a joint call for calm after clashes between rival factions broke out late on Thursday. 

Residents of Juba's Gudele and Jebel districts reported heavy gunfire near the barracks where Machar and his troops have their headquarters. A witness saw helicopters overhead but did not see them firing. Hundreds of city residents sought shelter in a UN base.

The clashes have fuelled fears about renewed conflict and raised concerns about the extent the two men can control their troops in the world's newest nation.

"Dr Machar's residence was attacked twice today, including using tanks and helicopter gunships. Helicopters from Kiir's side attacked the residence twice," Machar's spokesman James Gatdet Dak said on Sunday, speaking by phone from abroad.

He added that the situation in Juba had subsequently calmed, echoing comments from residents who said gunfire had eased later today after several hours of shooting.

Residents saw hundreds of people seeking shelter in a base of the UN mission UNMISS. "I saw dead bodies of civilians, and others ... moving with blood on their bodies," one man, who gave his name only as Steven, said by telephone.

Another reported seeing troops looting a shop in Juba, but it was not clear if they were loyal to Machar or Kiir.

Stand-off

The fighting first erupted on Thursday, when troops loyal to Kiir stopped and demanded they be allowed to search vehicles being driven by Machar loyalists. That stand-off led to clashes.

Gunfire broke out again on Friday between the Vice-President's bodyguards and the Presidential guard, while the two men were holding talks at the Presidential State House to defuse tensions. Both men said at the time they did not know what had prompted the exchange of fire.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday the latest violence highlighted a lack of commitment to the peace process and urged the country's leaders to discipline military leaders and work together to implement the peace deal.

On Sunday, Kenya called on Kiir and Machar to resolve the crisis and urgently to move heavy weaponry and contingents of soldiers out of civilian spaces of the capital, Kenyan presidential spokesman Manoah Espisu told a briefing.

He said Kenya was ready to support law enforcement in Juba.

Kenya Airways suspended flights to Juba.

Machar and Kiir signed a peace deal in August 2015 to end the conflict, but spent months afterwards wrangling over details. Machar finally returned to Juba to resume his former position of vice president in April.

Analysts say the failure of the two sides swiftly to implement key elements, such re-integrating or demobilising their troops, has cast a shadow over the peace process.

South Sudan's civil war was fought largely along ethnic lines with Kiir, a Dinka, and Machar, a Nuer, drawing support from their respective tribes.

Fighting since 2013 has left swathes of the country of 11 million people struggling to find enough food to eat. It has also disrupted oil production, by the far the government's biggest source of revenues, leaving it mired in poverty.

(Reuters)

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