Fears that violence in South Sudan would spread proved accurate on Wednesday after officials reported clashes in two towns outside the capital.
Soldiers traded gunfire overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday in Bor and Torit, Reuters reported. Bor, the state capital of Jonglei in the middle east of the country, was the scene of ethnic violence in 1991.
“Last night, there was fighting in two military barracks,” deputy governor Hussein Maar said Wednesday. “Because of that fighting, the population, the local people here got scared that it will spill over to the town.”
Torit is the state capital of Eastern Equatoria, about 130 miles east of the capital.
Until Tuesday, fighting between military rivals had been relegated to the capital Juba, killing about 500 and wounding 800 more.
Tens of thousands more fled their homes for United Nations refugee camps.
The United States flew 120 people out of the country as the situation deteriorated. Two planes carrying "non-emergency chief of mission personnel, private US citizens, and third country nationals," took off from Juba, according to the State Department's deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
President Salva Kiir accused his former vice president, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup, Agence France-Presse said.
Machar, in turn, accused the government of using violence to quash dissent. He apparently went into hiding after a government crackdown on former ministers that Kiir said were plotting against him.
“Most people are scared they might be confronted with a mob or see dead bodies,” an aid worker in Juba told Reuters.
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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon the rivals to find a political solution to the violence.
“This is a political crisis, and urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue. There is a risk of this violence spreading to other states, and we have already seen some signs of this,” Ban said.
There is some hope talks will ensue, with Juba reporting a slow return to normalcy. Traffic is again moving and the airport was to re-open.
The president went as far as suggesting peace talks with his rival, according to AFP.
“I will sit down with him — Riek — and talk,” Kiir told AFP. “But I don’t know what the results of the talks will be.”
He also pledged to bring murders to justice, while calling on those who had fled their homes to return.
“Those who have killed people will be taken to court and be tried,” Kiir said.
South Sudan, which split from Sudan in 2011, is the world’s newest nation. Roughly 10 million people occupy an oil-rich, landlocked nation equivalent to Spain and Portugal combined.
It’s among Africa’s most impoverished nations, and has been the site of numerous ethnic clashes in the past as well as conflict with Sudan over oil.
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