Fighting has continued in the South Sudan capital of Juba, with civilians among a rising death toll. Fears are high the violence may escalate in the wake of Sunday’s reported coup attempt.
The government has said 10 key figures have been arrested, while former vice president Riek Machar - accused by President Salva Kiir of leading the attempt - is on the run.
"They are still looking for more ... who are suspected of being behind the coup," Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told the news agency AFP.
Gunfire and explosions were heard throughout Juba on Tuesday, and the city remains on lockdown and under curfew as its streets remain subject to fighting. Senior Ministry of Health official Makur Maker said at least 26 people, mostly soldiers but some civilians, have been killed. Minister of Information Michael Makuei Lueth told AFP the death toll in fact stood at 73.
Over 10,000 civilians - reported to be as high as 16,000 by some agencies - have taken refuge in United Nations compounds in Juba. In a phone conversation with Kiir on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the South Sudan president "to exercise real leadership at this critical moment, and to instill discipline in the ranks of the [Sudanese military] to stop this fighting among them.”
The United States has responded by ordering its non-essential officials to leave the East African nation, and urged others there to depart immediately.
South Sudan 'cannot tolerate dictatorship'
Kiir had sacked long-time political rival Machar in July. He appeared on local television on Monday saying forces loyal to Machar had attacked an army base in an attempt to seize power.
The men hail from rival ethnic groups and had fought on different sides during Sudan's civil war. Machar has said he will challenge for the leadership at the next elections in 2015, saying South Sudan could not survive “one man's rule,” and it “cannot tolerate dictatorship.”
Most of the fighting is reported to be between the soldiers hailing from the Dinka tribe loyal to Kiir, and those of the Nuer tribe backing Machar.
ph/jr (Reuters, AP, AFP)