JUBA - South Sudanese army officials on Thursday raised the death toll from fighting at a military barracks in Juba from five to 24, as calm returned to the capital city after a tense night.
"The number is no longer five," army spokesman Brigadier General Malaak Ayuen Ajook said after touring the Giada barracks near the University of Juba where clashes broke out Wednesday over a pay dispute.
Fighting broke out at the same barracks in mid-December, triggering months of conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced around 900,000 people around the young country.
Ayuen said the bodies of 24 soldiers have been recovered at Giada but added that it was "difficult to give exact figures" of fatalities in Wednesday's fighting "because now there are buildings which have collapsed on the soldiers, so we don’t know how many are under those stones.”
The European Commmission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection agency (ECHO) reported that "shelling, mortars and shooting were reported in different parts of the city" during the fighting.
"Substantial shooting" was reported near one of the compounds in Juba of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), ECHO said.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Martin Nesirsky, told reporters in New York that there were reports of "sporadic shooting" at several places around Juba on Wednesday, including near the UNMISS Tomping base and a World Food Programme warehouse.
But Ayuen played down the overnight tensions, blaming the sporadic gunfire on undisciplined soldiers who were trying to cause panic.
"We have enemies among ourselves who are trying to provoke a situation," he said.
"It was isolated, that shooting last night, because they were firing in the air," Ayuen said.
More civilians seek refuge at UN bases
UNMISS spokeswoman Ariane Quentier said the fresh round of fighting in Juba, which had been relatively calm for around two months even as fighting raged in other parts of the country, drove dozens more civilians to seek refuge at both Tomping base and UN House in the capital.
“I think there are about 60 of them who came to seek protection in the protection site in Tomping and... UN House," she said
The U.N. is providing shelter for some 43,000 people at its two bases in Juba, and 77,000 around South Sudan, officials said.
Juba was calm Thursday, but U.N. officials said there were security checkpoints and army troops across the city, and several roads in and around the capital have been blocked by the authorities.
Residents reported that traffic was back to normal and shops had reopened after closing early when the fighting broke out.
An unspecified number of soldiers were wounded in Wednesday's fighting and were being treated at a military hospital, Ayuen said.
Four people who were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in the deadly fighting at the barracks have been released and no one is currently being held in connection with the clashes, he said.