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US to evacuate citizens from South Sudan

Updated: 2013-12-18 17:06
( Agencies)

JUBA - The United States said on Wednesday it would evacuate non-essential embassy staff and citizens from South Sudan after army factions clashed, killing up to 500 people and raising fears of broader civil conflict in the two-year-old nation.

Two days of street battles between the factions, split along ethnic lines, have left part of the capital in ruins after fighting broke out on Sunday night in what the government called a coup attempt.

The government said it arrested 10 people, including seven former ministers, over the "foiled coup" and that several others, including former Vice President Riek Machar, were being sought for questioning.

The United States, which has urged its citizens to leave South Sudan, said it would start evacuating its people from Juba airport on flights organised by the US State Department.

Britain said it was gathering the names of any citizens who wanted to leave and residents said other nations were expected to follow. Many aid workers live and work in Juba.

Diplomats said the United Nations had reports of between 400 and 500 people killed and up to 800 wounded.

President Salva Kiir blamed Machar's supporters for the clashes.

The president sacked Machar in July after criticising the government for failing to deliver improvements more swiftly in South Sudan, one of Africa's poorest nations, since it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

Kiir and Machar come from rival ethnic groups that have fought before. But analysts say divisions in South Sudan go deeper as rival factions running broadly along ethnic lines have emerged in the army, probably beyond the leaders' control.

"Most people are scared they might be confronted with a mob or see dead bodies," said one aid worker in Juba, adding that the city was calmer on Wednesday morning, after residents woke to heavy gunfire and artillery blasts on Monday and Tuesday.

Majok Guangdong Thiep, South Sudan's ambassador to Kenya, told Kenyan television the airport would re-open on Wednesday. He said the situation in Juba was under control.

However, an official at Kenya airline Fly540 said a flight due to depart at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) from Nairobi for Juba did not leave because the South Sudanese airport was not open.

"Planes due to take off for Juba are empty as people don't want to go there. Even the Sudanese don't want to go home," said the Fly540 official, who asked not to be identified.


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