A United Nations base in Jonglei state was attacked and the main city in the state fell to forces opposed to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Thursday as violence spread outside the capital and more foreign nations evacuated their citizens.
The United Nations said one of its operating bases in Jonglei state was breached in an attack by Lou Nuer youths who were trying to get to scores of civilians who had sought shelter inside.
“Our base in Akobo, Jonglei State was attacked... We have received reports of people killed and injured and are in the process of verifying,” U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson told reporters in New York.
Eliasson called on South Sudanese leaders to begin a dialogue to settle what he called “a political crisis.”
“Violence is spreading and could spread even further and we need all South Sudanese leaders and political personalities now to immediately appeal for calm and call on their supporters to suspend hostilities. Political dialogue is the only way to prevent further escalation,” Eliasson said.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer told reporters the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was “not in control" of Bor, the capital of Jonglei, while state assembly lawmaker Jodi Jonglei Boyoris said the city has been overrun by troops loyal to former rebel leader Peter Gatdet, who defected from the army earlier this week when the troubles began.
Boyoris said residents have told him there has been looting in Bor, but it was impossible for VOA News to confirm the reports.
Kiir has said the violence that erupted in Juba on Sunday night was a coup attempt led by former vice president Riek Machar, but Machar and other members of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement have denied the accusation.
Officials have said some 500 people have been killed and at least 700 wounded in the fighting in Juba. An official in Unity state said 16 people were killed there when fighting broke out in two oilfields, and fatalities have also been reported in Jonglei state, although no numbers were given.
Report Warns of Targeted Killings
A report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch
said some of the victims may have been targeted for their ethnicity, raising fears aired by observers that South Sudan’s long-standing tribal tensions may be fueling the violence.
“Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that government soldiers… and police questioned residents about their ethnicity and deliberately shot ethnic Nuer” in Juba, the report said.
Human Rights Watch has also received reports that ethnic Dinka may have been targeted in Juba and in Bor by Nuer soldiers.
“The awful accounts of killings in Juba may only be the tip of the iceberg,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Government officials – whatever their politics – need to take urgent steps to prevent further abuses against civilians and quickly deescalate rising ethnic tensions.”
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir gestures during a news conference in Juba, Dec. 18, 2013.
Kiir vowed to bring to justice anyone who has “taken the law into their own hands” and urged South Sudanese to bury their “tribal tendencies… once and for all.”
“We believe in diversity, and if we stick to tribalism, we cannot proceed,” Kiir told reporters late Wednesday.
“Let us embrace ourselves as South Sudanese and build our nation. South Sudan is our country, a country for all,” he said.
Thousands Seek U.N. Protection
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says it has provided shelter to around 20,000 people in Juba and hundreds more in Bor, with thousands more civilians asking for U.N. protection.
A U.N. spokesman said that even though Juba was “relatively calm” Thursday, hundreds of students at Juba University had asked for U.N. protection after hearing reports that several of their colleagues had been killed by security forces.
“In another location in Juba called the Kator complex, approximately 2,000 to 5,000 civilians have sought refuge and have called for UNMISS force protection from the UN Mission,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.
A Kenyan construction worker who was sheltering at the U.N. compound in Bor told VOA News he has had to go without food since he arrived at the facility on Wednesday.
“They provide us with a place to sleep but no food, only water,” said the Kenyan, who asked not to be named.
“I asked one officer and they said that’s the only thing they can offer because they didn’t have any arrangements, because this war has broken out while they were thinking it was already finished in Juba. They were not prepared,” he said.
Bor, South Sudan
Kiir said Wednesday he would be willing to meet with Machar to try to end the crisis, but the former vice president, who was sacked by Kiir in July, told Radio France Internationale
in an interview that the only thing he would be willing to discuss is the president’s resignation.
Britain, Italy and the Netherlands joined the United States and began evacuating their citizens from South Sudan as fighting that began four days ago in Juba also spread to two of Unity state’s oilfields, where 16 people were killed.
Unity State Deputy Governor Mabek Lang De Mading said soldiers deployed to the two oilfields by the state government have contained the fighting, and described the situation there as stable.