Fighting broke out at State House shortly after President Salva Kiir and his two deputies, Riek Machar and James Wani convened for a presidential meeting to discuss the security situation in Juba, following the killing of five soldiers on Thursday, July 7.
The fighting caught many journalists in the State House awaiting President Kiir’s address to the nation on the eve of the country’s fifth independence anniversary.
Amidst continuous shooting, Kiir, Machar and Igga spoke to the press and said it was too early to explain the situation and that none of them knew exactly what was happening outside.
The incident that happened was very unfortunate and it’s uncalled for.
“The incident that happened was very unfortunate and it’s uncalled for, because there was no reason for all these things,” President Kiir said.
“We were meeting to resolve whatever dispute that might have happened these days so that we move forward in the implementation of the agreement,” Kiir added.
Kiir further said, “now that it has happened there is nothing to be done about it, but we have to continue finding the solution to it”.
First Vice President Riek Machar echoed Kiir’s statements, saying “this is a very unfortunate incident which none of us knows what has happened. All we want to tell our public now is that they should remain calm”.
“This incident will be controlled and measures will be taken so that peace is restored even to the heart of the city itself. We hope you will be informed soon that the situation outside is calm,” Machar said.
The incident occurred just a day after forces loyal to Machar clashed with forces loyal to Kiir killing at least five people.
The fighting on Friday evening was however not limited to the State House alone. Witnesses in the capital described the sound of “serious shooting” in several neighbourhoods, including near the airport, and where United Nations and American offices are.
Already on Thursday, July 7, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan reported an “indiscriminate shooting attack on a senior United Nations agency official”, in Juba. Salah Khaled, the Unesco Country Director was injured. Shots were also fired at U.S. Embassy vehicles on Thursday night.
The exact number of casualties in Thursday’s and Friday’s clashes is not yet known – some media reports say over 100 people are feared dead – soldiers and civilians. The country’s leaders said a commission will investigate the surge in violence.
Nothing to clelebrate
“Oh my God what kind of holiday is this – gunshots and innocents are dying like nothing – God where are we going South Sudan,” said one South Sudanese in Juba.
The Niles correspondent Esther Muwombi, who was in Juba when fighting broke out in 2013, said “my love and prayers go out to the people of Juba during this uncertain night! I was there on the night of December 15, 2013, and would never wish such terror to happen again”.
“People say South Sudanese are tired of war – but is it not South Sudanese fighting in Wau and shooting at each other in Juba? Who are these tired South Sudanese?” another resident in Juba said.
My heart weeps for South Sudan.
“As I was running home due to the roaming gunshots everywhere, I saw an old woman running from inside the market and falling down several times. My heart weeps for South Sudan,” said Denis who witnessed the shootings.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since fighting broke out in Juba in 2013. More than 600,000 have been forced to flee to neighbouring Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan and at least half the population is facing food insecurity, the U.N. warned.
South Sudan’s August 2015 peace deal has been broken many times, the country’s economy is in free-fall and violence rages across the country – nothing to celebrate.