Situation in Juba calm after skirmishes on anniversary eve

The situation in the South Sudanese capital of Juba was calm late Friday after gunfire erupted earlier just one day before the world's youngest nation is set to mark five years of independence from Sudan.

Skirmishes broke out between members of the government's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and former rebels with the SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) as President Salva Kiir met with his deputy, former rebel leader Riek Machar.

Gunfire was reported at 4:30 pm (1330 GMT), and shots, grenades and mortars could be heard, according to local media and confirmed by the United Nations mission in the country. The situation was calm by 8 pm.

Kiir, Machar and his other deputy, James Wani Igga, told a news conference they didn't know what had occurred around the presidential palace.

"This is really a very unfortunate incident which none of us here really knows what happened," Machar said.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm over the fighting, saying it is "yet another illustration of the parties' lack of serious commitment to the peace process."

Machar's spokesman, James Gatdet, earlier blamed the gunfire on an attempt by Kiir and his bodyguards to arrest Machar.

A power struggle between Kiir and Machar escalated into a military conflict in December 2013. Tens of thousands were left dead and more than 2 million people displaced. The one-time enemies formed a transitional government in April.

The rebels accused the military of provoking the clashes late Thursday, according to the daily Sudan Tribune. The military has rejected the claims.

On Thursday, several people were killed in clashes between rebels and the military in Juba. On July 2, a member of the SPLA-IO was killed in Kator and five SPLA soldiers were killed in Gudele.

Planned celebrations in the capital to mark the country's independence from its northern neighbour on Saturday had already been cancelled several weeks ago for financial reasons.

The situation in the north-western city of Wau meanwhile remained tense as the UN peace mission UNMISS reported the sound of explosions and shooting in the area on Thursday.

Last update: Sat, 09/07/2016 - 00:50

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