Germany evacuates citizens from South Sudan as tensions run high

Germany on Wednesday was evacuating its nationals from South Sudan where tensions were running high amid uncertainty over whether a ceasefire would hold.

The United States, which had previously announced a reduction of embassy personnel, announced late Wednesday that it had sent 47 troops to protect its embassy in Juba.

A representative of the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres told dpa it was moving part of its staff to north-western Kenya.

A tense calm reigned in the capital Juba after President Salva Kiir announced a unilateral ceasefire on Monday, following several days of clashes with troops loyal to his deputy and former rebel leader Riek Machar.

A high-ranking Machar representative, General James Kong Chol, told dpa that rebel troops had honoured the ceasefire.

The presidency had on Sunday put the death toll at about 270 since Friday. But UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said in a statement to the UN Security Council that the figure was probably “only the tip of the iceberg.”

The army appeared in full control of Juba, Ladsous said. But he also said that "further clashes ... cannot be ruled out.”

dpa was unable to confirm reports that Machar’s troops had withdrawn from Juba and were waiting for reinforcements and more weapons.

The first German citizens were evacuated with military cargo planes to Uganda on Wednesday, according to a foreign ministry spokeswoman in Berlin.

About 100 Germans are currently in South Sudan, including 15 military observers with the UN mission who will stay in the country. Germany was also prepared to help other Europeans to leave, the spokeswoman said.

Despite a government announcement that Juba airport had reopened for civilian flights, only one domestic flight had been seen taking off, said an airport source who did not want to be named.

Ladsous said about 42,000 people were estimated to have been displaced by the fighting in Juba.

"I have been hiding in the bush," local journalist Ray Okech said by phone. On Tuesday he tried to go back to his home near the Jebel neighbourhood, where Machar has his residence and where much of the fighting took place.

"But there were bodies on the streets, so I could not stay there," Okech said, adding that he is now staying with a family member.

Clashes erupted between army and rebels forces on Thursday, followed by fighting on Friday near the presidential palace.

The fighting was later reported to have spread to other parts of the country.

The fresh outbreak of violence dealt a blow to hopes of peace after Kiir and Machar signed a peace agreement in August 2015 and formed a national unity government in April.

A power struggle between the two escalated into an armed conflict in December 2013, killing tens of thousands and displacing more than 2 million people.

UN humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan Eugene Owusu said a maternity hospital and other humanitarian facilities had been hit by shelling and gunfire in the recent surge in violence.

Aid worker Jeremiah Young of World Vision said humanitarian partners were preparing a "rapid response" for "life-saving critical services" such as emergency food supplies, water and shelter.

"Prior to the eruption of fighting in Juba, the humanitarian situation in South Sudan was already dire, with unprecedented levels of food insecurity and one in five people displaced," Owusu said in a statement.

He added that the UN's Humanitarian Response Plan for the country was underfunded by 60 per cent.

Last update: Thu, 14/07/2016 - 00:29

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