March 6, 2014 (JUBA) – The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has expressed concern on Thursday after shots were fired near its compound in Juba, injuring at least one person, with the incident linked to military clashes which erupted in the capital on Wednesday.
- This photo taken from Jebel Kujur in the South Sudan capital, Juba, shows smoke billowing from a military facility in the distance as the sound of explosions were heard across the city on 5 March 2014 (Photo: WFP/George Fominyen)
A UN spokesperson told journalists in New York that the gunfire was in the vicinity of the UN House, with fighting also occurring close to the site on Wednesday evening.
“Firing also occurred close to the UN House yesterday (Wednesday) evening. However, the situation within the compound is calm,” the spokesperson told media, citing the latest information from UNMISS.
The spokesperson said the situation in the capital remains “tense”, calling on all parties to “respect the work and inviolability of UN premises”.
Clashes broke out between military units at the Geida military barracks in southern Juba on Wednesday after a reported salary dispute turned violent.
The sound of heavy gunfire erupted about 9am (local time) on Wednesday, sparking widespread panic across the city.
The barracks, which is the headquarters of the Commando unit and hosts the presidential brigade known as Tiger, was the same site where fighting erupted on 15 December between soldiers aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar and those loyal to president Salva Kiir before spreading to other regions across the country.
DEATH TOLL PUT AT 25
Meanwhile, the South Sudan army (SPLA) on Thursday revised the official death toll from the clashes to 25, with the figure initially put at five.
Brig. Gen. Malaak Ayuen, the SPLA director of information and communication, told Sudan Tribune by phone on that Thursday that an assessment on the ground had revealed more dead bodies buried under rubble near the Geida military barracks in southern Juba.
“It is difficult to give exact figure [of dead] because the fighting happened in offices but now there are 25 killed,” he said without providing further details.
Ayuen has blamed Wednesday’s shootings on undisciplined soldiers trying to stir panic in the city.
“The soldiers were pre-empting a situation,” he said, adding that no soldiers had been arrested in connection to the incident.
His comments apparently contradict earlier statements, in which he said four officers accused of instigating the clashes had been arrested.
Ayuen said the death toll could climb further, with the large amount of rubble from collapsed buildings as a result of shelling in the area making assessments on the ground difficult.
“We don’t know how many [dead bodies] are there under the stones,” he added.
A soldier at the scene in Juba told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that he had counted 27 bodies at the scene, while other sources claimed the death toll could be at least 30.
Cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia Lomoru has confirmed that salaries were in the process of being paid to soldiers when heavy gunfire heavy erupted inside the barracks.
It is alleged that some soldiers attempted to collect the salaries on behalf of some of their colleagues who were not on the payroll, but this was refused as government employees are now required to collect payments in person. The measures have been implemented to ensure wages are not paid to so-called “ghost” workers or those who do not show up during the payment period.
A thick column of smoke was seen billowing from the facility, where a military store was reportedly hit by a rocket propelled grenade.
Residents in the Tongping, Munuki and Geida areas reported hearing sporadic gunfire overnight on Wednesday, with the security situation on Thursday remaining relatively stable.
Wednesday’s clashes are the most serious incident since the mid-December violence, which saw thousands flee their homes. The UN is currently providing protection to some 43,000 civilians in its sites in the capital.
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Heavy fighting erupts in Juba military barracks: witnesses
Salary dispute within S. Sudan army triggers heavy gunfire in Juba
Scores dead in S. Sudan military clashes in Juba: eyewitnesses