South Sudan deaths mount amid clashes

Described as a ‘coup attempt,’ President Salva Kiir announced the government was in full control of the situation

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At least 66 soldiers have been killed in battles raging for the past two days in the South Sudanese capital, Agence France-Presse reported a military hospital doctor as saying Tuesday.

“So far we have lost seven soldiers who died while they were waiting for medical attention and a further 59 who were killed outside,” doctor Ajak Bullen said on Miraya FM radio, adding the men would be given a mass burial.

Another medical establishment, Juba Teaching Hospital, had earlier reported 26 dead, a mixture of civilians and military.

It was not clear whether there was any overlap between the figures.

Armed groups in South Sudan attacked the defense ministry building in Juba on Monday, an attack which was contained by security forces.

Described as a “coup attempt” by officials, President Salva Kiir announced the government was in full control of the security situation in Juba.

“The attackers fled and your forces are pursuing them,” he said in an address to the nation on Monday.

South Sudan’s Under-Secretary for Health Makur Korion said on local radio that at least 26 people had so far been killed in the violence. At least 130 more are reported to have been wounded, according to AFP.

“We can still hear sporadic shooting from various locations. The situation is very tense,” Emma Jane Drew of the British aid agency Oxfam told AFP by telephone from Juba.

“It’s continued shooting. Shooting could be heard all through the night. We don’t know who is fighting who,” she added, saying her team was unable to leave their compound because of the fighting.

The U.N. envoy for South Sudan called on Monday for an end to the fighting and said she was in touch with the country’s leaders.

“I urge all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint,” U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General Hilde Johnson said in a statement carried by Reuters news agency.

Security sources said the fighting broke out shortly before midnight Sunday, apparently between rival factions in South Sudan’s armed forces.

South Sudan won its independence in 2011 after its people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to split from the north and form a new nation.

But political tensions have been high in recent weeks, and earlier this month key leaders of the ruling party -- the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- made a public challenge to President Salva Kiir and accused him of “dictatorial” behavior.

The United Nations said Tuesday it was protecting 10,000 civilians at two bases in South Sudan's capital Juba, and urged the warring groups to refrain from ethnic violence.

"It is paramount that the current violence does not assume ethnic dimensions," the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general, Hilde Johnson, said in a statement.

She said that "as of early Tuesday morning, an estimated 10,000 civilians have received protection in the two UNMISS compounds in Juba", hit by two days of fighting.

"The mission is taking every possible step to ensure their safety while they are staying on UNMISS premises," the statement said.

"At a time when unity among South Sudanese is more needed than ever, I call on the leaders of this new country and all political factions and parties, as well as community leaders to refrain from any action that fuels ethnic tensions and exacerbates violence," Johnson said.

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