South Sudanese President Salva Kiir said Monday that his government was in control of Juba after parts of the capital were rocked by unrest overnight in what officials have said was a coup bid by forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
“Your government is in full control of the security situation in Juba," Kiir told a news conference as sporadic gunfire and explosions continued to echo around the city.
"The attackers fled and your armed forces are pursuing them. I promise you today that justice will prevail," he said.
Kiir said the clashes erupted at around 6:00 p.m. Sunday after a meeting of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party.
“An unidentified person near Nyakuron Cultural Center released gunshots in the air and escaped," he said.
"This was followed by an attack at the SPLA general headquarters near Juba University by a group of soldiers allied to the former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny and his group," Kiir said.
Machar, whom Kiir fired in July in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle, has vowed to challenge Kiir for the leadership of the SPLM ahead of general elections in 2015, and has accused the president of having “dictatorial tendencies."
The former vice president's whereabouts were unknown Monday, and VOA was unable to reach Machar or his spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, for comment.
Dak said last week that Machar and other members of the SPLM had canceled a planned weekend protest against Kiir’s administration in an effort to promote dialogue within the party.
Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the South Sudanese army, the SPLA, declined to say whether Machar has been arrested following the alleged coup attempt or whether the former vice president is suspected of being involved in the uprising.
“We are still establishing the facts around the attacks and the identities of the attackers is still being analyzed by the military intelligence of the SPLA,” Aguer said.
Juba Deserted, Airport Closed
The usually bustling roads of Juba were empty Monday, except for a heavy presence of security forces, and shops were shuttered after fighting that lasted through the night.
Juba's international airport was closed and a dusk to dawn curfew that Kiir imposed on the city was due to take effect Monday at 6 p.m.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported gunfire in seven neighborhoods near SPLA headquarters. Hundreds have sought refuge inside the U.N. compound near the airport and at U.N. House in the Jebel Kujur neighborhood, UNMISS officials said.
Hilde Johnson, the U.N. special representative for South Sudan, urged everyone involved to end the fighting, and said she has been in contact with key leaders to call for calm.
John Buksar had a sleepless night as he sheltered in place at his home near the Nyakuron Cultural Center after hearing gunfire erupt nearby at around 9:30 p.m. Sunday, he told VOA News.
“They started shooting. We thought it was thieves... Reaching to 10, they start the real shooting. People are running. We did not sleep last night. In the morning, around six, they started another serious shooting. Everybody is scared,” he said from the church near his home where he sought shelter when the gunfire subsided Monday.
Wani Francis described scenes of chaos in his neighborhood of Nimra Talata.
"People have been running, and up to now, I don’t know what’s happened," he said.