March 06, 2014 (JUBA) - The South Sudanese army (SPLA) has described allegations its forces killed foreign nationals harbouring members of the Nuer tribe, the country’s second largest ethnic group, as “unfounded”.
- An SPLA soldier walks away from a vehicle while on patrol in Juba on 21 December 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
The allegations emerged in the wake of Wednesday’s outbreak of violence at Geida, a military barracks south-west of the capital, Juba, following a dispute among soldiers over salary payments.
“What happened yesterday (Wednesday) as I have said before was limited to shooting between limited individual soldiers in a limited place. It did not go beyond the military barracks. So it is not correct that some soldiers went out to hunt from members of [the] Nuer [group] and killed foreign nationals,” said Malaak Ayuen, the army’s head of information and public relations, told reporters on Thursday, adding the claims were unacceptable propaganda”.
Ayuen said the army regretted the sporadic shooting which later followed overnight on Wednesday, saying some of the gunshots heard were in fact the denotation of unexploded ordinances, while he described another similar incident in Thongpiny as an alleged misunderstanding between security forces.
However, in a series of interviews with Sudan Tribune on Thursday, residents said that more than 12 civilians, including a six-year-old boy, were shot dead in both accidental and targeted killings during the skirmishes that occurred around the military facility.
The clashes were reportedly triggered when the army’s payment committee restricted payments to its actively serving members present on duty, excluding those who fled to UN camps for safety reasons in mid-December last year after political tensions erupted in violence.
It’s alleged the soldiers, branded deserters by the army, turned violent after becoming angry over salary their arrears.
Three civilians were shot dead by soldiers at Nyakuron, a residential neighbourhood close to the barracks, which witnessed the genesis of the mid-December outbreak of conflict.
“Two government soldiers in full military attires with guns came to the compound and demanded they be shown where Nuer lives. It [was] like they knew that some Nuer were living in this compound, but we all kept quiet. We did not talk, but they kept asking, ‘Where is the Nuer [that] lives here?’ They kept asking, then one Ethiopian national, a man, also living in the same compound, replied that the Nuer residents had gone away two days ago. They accused him of lying and immediately shot him dead and then went into the house where two Nuer members were reportedly hiding and shot them dead,” an eyewitness told Sudan Tribune on Thursday.
Another resident claimed two Ugandans living in Jabarona and five Somalis residing in the Gudule area died in Wednesday night’s shoot-out, while a South Sudanese national was also reportedly ahit by stray bullets in Jabarona market area.
The army has put the official death toll at 25, although the actual number of people killed remains unclear. Civilian and military ambulances were seen moving around the town with their sirens blaring. Government soldiers continued to patrol streets on Thursday, with several roadblocks set up in key strategic areas and installations.