JUBA – Possibly fearing another Libya Embassy situation the United States department of State is evacuating all non-emergency staff from their Embassy in South Sudan as bloody violence in the capital spirals, leaving scores of people dead, including two Chinese U.N. peacekeepers.
The U.S. State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Juba, and warned U.S. citizens against traveling to South Sudan. The department said the new fighting marked a “sudden and serious deterioration in the security situation in the capital.”
Heavy explosions and gunfire shook South Sudan’s capital, Juba, on Monday as clashes between government and opposition forces in the east African nation entered their fifth day, witnesses said, pushing the country back toward civil war.
The Reuters news agency reported scores of people have been killed in the fighting, which broke out Thursday between forces loyal to Corrupt President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar, who led who led rebels during a two-year civil war.
An estimated $4 billion of oil revenues are unaccounted for or, simply put, stolen by officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar.
An Associated Press reporter in the city reported shooting Monday morning that prevented residents from moving about the city.
Shantal Persaud, acting spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) told CNN by phone from her bathroom at a U.N. compound, where she was taking cover as gunfire was exchanged right outside the complex, near the city’s airport. Shots were also heard outside one of the U.N.’s civilian protection facilities in the city’s southeast.
At least 10,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, said Matilda Moyo, reporting officer for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Juba.
The State Department said the security situation in Juba on Sunday had seen a “sudden and serious deterioration,” with clashes between government and opposition forces breaking out into “general fighting.”
The United Nations Security Council, which held a closed door meeting in New York on Sunday, expressed “shock and outrage” at attacks on civilians and U.N. compounds, saying they may constitute war crimes.
It called on President Salva Kiir and his rival Vice President Riek Machar to control their respective warring forces, prevent the spread of violence and genuinely commit themselves to the implementation of a ceasefire and peace agreement.
Japan’s ambassador to the U.N., Koro Bessho confirmed the death of a Chinese soldier, while China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported the death of a second Chinese peacekeeper.
Other Chinese and Rwandan peacekeepers also sustained injuries.
‘Total breakdown of command and control’
Fighting first broke out Thursday, with skirmishes between troops loyal to Kiir and soldiers who support his deputy Machar.
Fighting flared again Sunday, with gunfire exchanged outside a U.N. building, after a lull Saturday when the world’s newest country celebrated the fifth anniversary of its independence from Sudan.
“What we may be seeing is a total breakdown of command and control in Juba,” said Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “We need to watch carefully for whether a cycle of reprisal killings by either side begins in the next few days.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it ceased almost all its operations in Juba on Friday afternoon when fighting erupted.
“Everything came to a halt because there was too much confusion, too much shooting, too much commotion in town. Checkpoints are making movements impossible,” Jurg Eglin, head of the Red Cross mission in the country said.
The World Food Program said thousands of people had taken shelter its compound, also very close to the ongoing fighting, the organization’s senior regional spokeswoman Challis McDonough said.
The compound “is designed for about 100 people and it’s got something like 3,000 in it right now,” McDonough said, calling the situation “very fluid.”
She said there was concern that the fighting would hinder distribution of food as the country’s main center of coordination is in lockdown.
“The humanitarian needs are acute in some parts of the country and we are tying to make sure we can continue that support but we need to make sure it is in a way that is as safe as possible for our staff and partners,” she said.