December 18, 2013 (JUBA) – At least 20 people have been confirmed dead after mutinying soldiers allegedly loyal to dissident South Sudan army (SPLA) general Peter Gatdat Yak seized control of key military installations around Jonglei state capital Bor on Wednesday and opened fire in civilian areas.
The outbreak of violence in Jonglei is a disturbing development following unrest in the South Sudan capital, Juba, which broke out on Sunday evening after soldiers attacked an SPLA barracks in Juba.
President Kiir has described the incident as an attempted coup by forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar and there are increasing concerns that the young nation could plunge into full-scale civil war.
Gadet-led forces took control of Pan-pandiar and Malual-chaat military camps early on Wednesday, with hundreds of soldiers loyal to Kiir forced to flee.
Military sources said SPLA soldiers at the barracks had come under heavy fire from artilleries, tanks, motor bombs and rocket launchers in the attack, which occurred between 1am and 3.30am (local time). Two high ranking officials from the Dinka tribe are suspected to have been killed in the attack.
South Sudan Red Cross also reported gunfire from eastern Bor suburb Ci-Nuer-Ben in blocks 4 and ‘O’. The area is largely inhabited by members of the Nuer tribe.
“We counted 19 bodies during an assessment to deserted residential areas today in Bor town”, David Gai Del, the director of Red Cross in Jonglei, told Sudan Tribune by phone from Bor.
“The humanitarian situation is worsening”, he added.
He said the death toll is likely to increase, noting that civilians in surrounding villages around Pan-pandiar and Malual-chaat could not be reached due to heavy gunfire. Many have fled to the nearby forest and there are fears civilians may have been caught up in cross-fire.
Three children drowned while crossing the Nile River on Wednesday, as their parents tried to take shelter in swampy areas, Bor MP Philip Thon Nyok told Sudan Tribune. Many more children also remain unaccounted for, he added.
South Sudanese military intelligence official Gabriel Ajak confirmed to Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that Gadet was behind the military raid and shootings in Bor, saying he had escaped to Kolnyang payam (district) about 25kms from Pan-pandiar, where he is now reorganising his forces.
When South Sudan rebel movement-turned ruling party – the SPLM - first split in 1991 ethnic violence erupted in violence after Bor villages were overran by forces loyal to Machar.
Unrest has been building in and around Bor, following Sunday evening’s attack in Juba, with residents said to be dividing along tribal lines, reflecting how the sporadic shooting in Juba is being interpreted.
The former vice-president, whose whereabouts remain unknown, broke his silence on Wednesday denying any involvement in the alleged coup attempt.
Bor airport has now been closed amid security fears, officials say.
In Juba, an SPLA spokesman said the death toll had risen to 500 dead, with several hundred reported injured.
Thousands of residents have fled their homes in Juba and Bor and are now taking shelter within the compounds of the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)
Gadet has long been fighting SPLA forces from his positions in the bush. In 2012, he led a division which carried out a disarmament campaign against rebels loyal to David Yau Yau.
- ST - South Sudan crisis
- ST - South Sudan army says General Peter Gadet has defected from SPLA
- S. Sudan’s Kiir says ready for dialogue with Machar
- ST - Mutinying soldiers kill 20 people in Bor as unrest worsens
- ST - Calm returns to Juba after days of political unrest
- ST - Former SPLM secretary-general Amum arrested in Juba
- ST - Ugandans, Kenyans evacuated from South Sudan