JUBA — At least 26 people have been killed in Juba and dozens more treated for gunshot wounds since fighting broke out late Sunday in the South Sudanese capital, officials said Tuesday.
The death toll is expected to rise as officials gain access to more parts of the city, where gunfire still punctuated the air on Tuesday and the streets were deserted except for military vehicles, as residents heeded warnings to remain indoors.
Health Undersecretary, Dr. Makur Matur Kariom, said that since Monday, medical staff at Juba Teaching Hospital have recorded 26 deaths caused by the violence in the capital and treated dozens of people, mainly for gunshot wounds.
The U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it has treated 39 people, including five children, at a clinic at one of its compounds. UNMISS reported no deaths.
The U.S. Department of State warned against all travel to South Sudan and recommended that "U.S. citizens currently in South Sudan depart immediately" as the fighting stretched into a third day.
The government made no official statement Tuesday about the unrest and there was no news about whether anyone has been detained in connection with what President Salva Kiir has said was a failed bid to oust him, carried out by soldiers loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar.
Garang's Widow: 'I'm Under House Arrest'
But Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of John Garang, the late leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which fought the government in Khartoum for more than two decades in a civil war that that ended in 2005, said she was placed under house arrest Tuesday and many other officials have been arrested.
"They said we are disgruntled and they said it led to a coup, which is not true," Nyandeng told VOA News, which has been unable to confirm Nyandeng's claims.
A high-ranking member of the ruling SPLM party, Nyandeng has been a critic of the government since South Sudan became an independent nation in July 2011.
Machar has also been critical of Kiir since the president fired him in a sweeping overhaul of his cabinet in July. The former vice president has accused Kiir of leaning toward dictatorship and has vowed to challenge him for the leadership of the SPLM ahead of general elections in 2015.
Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesman Mawien Makol Arik said there was fighting on Tuesday morning near the compound in Juba where Machar lives.
"We are not sure who was inside. Up to now we don’t know where the vice president is,” Arik said.
Fighting Expected to End Soon, Government Says
Speaking at the end of a cabinet meeting on Tuesday with Kiir and other top army officials, Arik said the government does not expect the unrest in Juba to last much longer. Government officials went to work Tuesday, he said, describing the situation in the capital as "relatively calm."
But in the city's neighborhoods, only military vehicles plied the streets, shops were shuttered, and residents who haven't fled for the safety of villages and compounds outside Juba heeded warnings to stay indoors.
UNMISS has reported gunfire in seven different neighborhoods and said that thousands of residents of Juba have sought shelter at U.N. facilities.
Margret James went to the Episcopal Cathedral in Juba when the fighting broke out on Sunday and has been holed up there since then, with dozens of other people.
“They started shooting. We ran here to the church. We thought it was safe, but still gunshots are heard nearby. It’s very difficult to stay. We wish we could go somewhere safe, but there is no safe place in Juba now,” she said.
A VOA News reporter said that after an overnight lull in the fighting, "serious shooting" broke out Tuesday morning near the airport and the part of Juba where government buildings are clustered.
The airport remains closed for a second day and officials said all border crossings have been temporarily shut down.
Residents who have stayed in Juba face food and water shortages, as private vehicles, including food and water delivery trucks, have been unable to get into the city.
Outside Juba, the situation remains calm for the most part. Officials in Eastern Equatoria state, which neighbors the state that includes the capital, have imposed an 8 p.m.curfew, but a state government spokesman said officials were "just being cautious."
"The security situation in Eastern Equatoria state is normal and people are doing their job as usual. We condemned what has taken place in Juba and we feel that we have organized our state well and the normal situation continues,” Eastern Equatoria spokesman Clement Laku said.
In Unity state, in the north of the country, Deputy Governor Mabeak Lang de Mading vowed that his state would remain peaceful.
“The government and the people of Unity State will not and shall never allow anything to happen in this state that might be rooted to this act,” he said.
Church leaders have offered to act as mediators between the two factions fighting in Juba, but neither side has indicated that they might take them up on the offer.