South Sudan's neighbours brace for influx of refugees after fighting

South Sudan's neighbours were Thursday preparing for a massive influx of refugees who had fled fighting between the army and troops loyal to former rebel leader Riek Machar that displaced more than 40,000 people.

More than 1,460 people have already crossed the South Sudanese border into Uganda, said Charles Yaxley, spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Kampala.

South Sudan had slightly eased checks on cross-border traffic after blocking it earlier on, according to Yaxley.

"We hear there is a vast amount of people on the South Sudanese side of the border. So we are preparing for a significant influx of people," he said.

Ugandan police spokeswoman Polly Namaye said Ugandan troops had been sent to clear corridors "for the safe passage of convoys" and that medical teams would attend to refugees with gun wounds.

Duke Mwancha, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Kenya, said the organization was also preparing for an influx at the Kenyan border and had deployed teams to monitor the situation.

Meanwhile in South Sudan's capital Juba, Jeremiah Young from the aid organization World Vision said it had fed thousands of people without being able to attend to all those in need.

The UN has estimated that 42,000 people fled the fighting that broke out in Juba last week between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to Machar, who was sworn in as vice president in April.

The presidency had on Sunday put the death toll at about 270 since Friday. But UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the figure was probably "only the tip of the iceberg."

Fighting was also reported in other parts of the country.

Kiir and Machar declared a ceasefire earlier this week, leading fighting in Juba to subside, with some markets reopening and life returning to the streets, Young said.

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.

Kiir meanwhile rejected the deployment of more UN peacekeepers in the country, which the UN Security Council has said it would be willing to do.

"There are over 12,000 foreign troops in South Sudan. What do you need foreign forces for?" Kiir told journalists.

A Machar spokesman denied reports that rebel troops had left Juba, saying they had only retreated from the Jebel neighbourhood where the vice president has his residence and where most of the recent fighting took place.

Machar's troops are "still in town, but not exactly at the residence," Colonel William Gatjiath said.

Gatjiath criticized Kiir's promise of granting an amnesty to rebels who had taken part in the fighting, dismissing it as a ploy to make Machar reappear so that he could be killed.

Political scientist Michael Thon, member of a civil society task force monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement, said there was "serious division" among the rebels.

Machar was not in control of all his commanders, some of whom did not trust Kiir and wanted to topple him, Thon said.

The division among the rebels could further destabilize South Sudan, the analyst said, adding that the country "is not safe."

Last update: Thu, 14/07/2016 - 18:36
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