Uneasy calm returns to South Sudan’s Juba after fierce fighting

Uneasy calm returned to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, on Tuesday after five days of fierce fighting between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar.

There were no sounds of gunfire across the city, which has been deserted as residents had either fled or went into hiding to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

The relative calm comes after the two leaders ordered a ceasefire and directed all commanders to lay down arms and report to their unit bases.

Mr. Machar on Monday said he had ordered his soldiers to put down arms, after 272 people were killed in renewed fighting that is threatening to plunge the world’s youngest nation in war.

“I want to reciprocate the declaration of universal ceasefire and I am informing the troops that have been fighting to respect this ceasefire and to remain where they are now,” he said.

Last week’s sporadic gunfire was the first major outbreak of violence in Juba since President Kiir and rebel leader Mr. Machar formed the transitional unity government on April 29.

Residents across the restive city who had remained indoors confirmed tense calm returned to Juba as a few who turned up in the city, converse in low tones perhaps over the prevailing situation in the world’s youngest nation.

“Juba is calm now although tense because we do not know whether there would be an eruption of gunfight again. But for now, things are okay,” said Peter Chol, a Juba resident.

He said some businesses were opened on Tuesday with police providing security.

Meanwhile, South Sudan’s Ambassador to Kenya, Chol Ajongo, said Tuesday that the Juba International Airport has reopened.

“However, it is up to individual airline companies to resume flights to the capital if they feel the compulsion to do so,” said the ambassador.

“The airport is safe and is under protection by South Sudanese forces,” he told journalists in Nairobi.

Mr. Ajongo added that the over 30,000 Kenyans residing and doing business in South Sudan are out of harm with no reported death so far following security challenges that have since killed over 270 South Sudanese nationals.

The airport had been mostly closed except to military traffic. Mr. Ajongo said it is the obligation of Nairobi to evacuate its nationals, especially if they feel threatened, adding that normalcy had been restored in the capital and there should be no cause for alarm.

“President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar are in control of their troops and that is why fighting stopped when they directed their respective commanders to abide by the orders and declare cessation of hostilities,” he said.

Mr. Ajongo said the Foreign Ministers of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) meeting held on Monday in Nairobi called for an immediate ceasefire and the protection of civilians.

He assured that Juba was enforcing the peace agreement to the letter.

“Peace cannot be forced. It comes from within and South Sudanese nationals have a bigger role to play to ensure that calm returns to their country,” the ambassador remarked.

(Xinhua/NAN)

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