South Sudan president alleges coup attempt

Curfew after Kiir blames soldiers of sacked vice-president for fighting in capital

South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir (right) addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in the capital Juba yesterday. Photograph: Hakim George/Reuters

South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir (right) addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in the capital Juba yesterday. Photograph: Hakim George/Reuters


South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir declared a curfew in the capital Juba yesterday after overnight clashes between rival factions of soldiers, which he said were triggered by an “attempted coup”.

Mr Kiir blamed soldiers loyal to Riek Machar, whom he dismissed as vice-president in July, for starting the fighting in the capital, which extended into yesterday morning before easing.

The two men are from different ethnic groups that have clashed in the past. Mr Machar has said he wants to run for president.

Flanked by ministers and wearing combat fatigues rather than his usual civilian clothes, Mr Kiir declared a curfew running from 6pm to 6am each night, effective from yesterday. He said the fighting broke out after an unidentified person fired shots in the air near a ruling party conference.

“This was followed later by an attack at the SPLA (South Sudanese army) headquarters near Juba University by a group of soldiers allied to the former vice-president Dr Riek Machar and his group. These attacks continued until this morning,” he said.

“However, I would like to inform you, at the outset, that your government is in full control of the security situation in Juba.”

Fighting intensified
Gunfire and blasts were heard through the night around the city, intensifying yesterday morning. Fighting mostly subsided by midday, with witnesses reporting sporadic gunfire in some areas and a heavy military presence in the city.

At least 10,000 civilians took refuge in UN compounds in the capital, said one UN official. Women and children were among the thousands taking shelter, said the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Kenyan airlines Fly540 and Kenya Airways suspended flights to Juba indefinitely after the airport closed.

The government has struggled to establish a functioning state since declaring independence from Sudan in 2011 to become Africa’s newest nation.

Mr Kiir dismissed Mr Machar after he publicly criticised the government’s failure to deliver better public services in the oil-producing nation, which is the size of France but has has very few tarmac roads.

Speaking by phone earlier in the day, a UN spokesman said seven people had been treated for gunshot wounds, including a two-year-old boy.

The fighting is the latest setback for one of Africa’s poorest states. Oil production, South Sudan’s main source of revenue, was shut down for 15 months until April because of a row with Sudan, which hosts the main export oil pipeline.

“I urge all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint,” UN special representative of the secretary-general Hilde Johnson said.

“I have been in touch regularly with the key leaders to call for calm.”

Jok Madut Jok, chairman of South Sudan’s Sudd Institute think tank, also said troops loyal to Mr Machar were to blame. “Riek Machar is not new to this kind of militaristic avenue to power,” he said.

After accepting his dismissal at the time, Mr Machar has since accused the president of acting like a dictator. Mr Kiir said last week that some “comrades” where threatening to drag the nation back to a period in 1991, when South Sudanese ranks were split.

The fighting has revived memories of the factionalism in the 1990s within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – the group that fought Sudan’s army in the north for two decades. Mr Machar led a splinter faction and south- south clashes erupted.

Mr Machar is from the Nuer tribe, which has fought in the past with South Sudan’s dominant Dinka tribe, to which Mr Kiir belongs.

Critics say the new nation suffers the same ills as old Sudan, namely rampant corruption, poor public services and repression of government opponents and media. –(Reuters)