|South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has said a coup led by his former deputy has been foiled and vowed to bring to justice those responsible.
Soldiers loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, attempted to overthrow the government of South Sudan, as sporadic fighting between factions of the military gripped the capital in the latest violence to hit the world’s youngest nation.
Flanked by government officials, President Salva Kiir, who had put on fatigues with an army general’s epaulets, said in a televised address to the nation that the military had foiled a coup orchestrated by “a group of soldiers allied with the former vice president.”
The soldiers had attacked the South Sudanese military headquarters near Juba University late on Sunday, sparking sporadic clashes that continued on Monday, he said.
“The attackers went and (the) armed forces are pursuing them,” Kiir said on Monday.
“I promise you today that justice will prevail.”
The government was now “in full control of the military situation”, he said, ordering a curfew in Juba from 6:00pm to 6:00am (1500 to 0300 GMT), which will remain in force until further notice.
Details of the attempted coup remained sketchy, but South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told the Associated Press news agency that troops in the main army base raided a weapons store in Juba but were repulsed.
Some politicians had since been arrested, he said, but could not confirm if former vice president Riek Machar – who he said led the attempted coup – was among them. Benjamin said the coup was plotted by “disgruntled” soldiers and politicians led by Machar.
An Associated Press journalist saw heavily-armed soldiers patrolling the streets of Juba on Monday while gunfire was coming from the city’s main army barracks. The streets were largely empty of civilians.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported the sound of mortar and heavy machine-gun fire, saying hundreds of civilians had sought shelter at a UN compound.
The UN deputy special representative for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, tweeted that up to 13,000 civlians were taking refuge from the fighting in UNMISS bases.
Tension had been mounting in South Sudan since Kiir fired Machar as his deputy in July.
Machar, who has expressed a willingness to contest the presidency in 2015, told Al Jazeera in July that if the country is to be united it cannot tolerate “one man’s rule or it cannot tolerate dictatorship.”
His sacking, part of a wider dismissal of the entire Cabinet by Kiir, had followed reports of a power struggle within the ruling party.
At the time, the United States and the European Union urged calm amid fears the dismissals could spark political upheaval in the country.
While Kiir is leader of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party, many of the dismissed ministers, including Machar, were key figures in the rebel movement that fought a decades-long war against Sudan that led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011.
Machar, a deputy chairman of the ruling party, is one of the country’s most influential politicians.
The local Sudan Tribune newspaper reported on its website that military clashes erupted late Sunday between members of the presidential guard in fighting that seemed to pit soldiers from Kiir’s Dinka tribe against those from the Nuer tribe of Machar.
South Sudan has experienced bouts of ethnic violence, especially in rural Jonglei state, since the country peacefully broke away from Sudan after a brutal civil war.