JUBA, South Sudan — The United Nations Friday sent four helicopters to evacuate staff from one of its bases in South Sudan’s Jonglei state where three U.N. peacekeepers were killed Thursday in violence gripping the world’s newest nation.
Fighting has spread since the Dec. 15 attack outside an army barracks in the capital, Juba, with the violence leaving as many as 500 people dead while at least 20,000 have sought shelter at U.N. compounds, according to information from the government and the United Nations.
South Sudan’s government lost control of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, on Dec. 18 to a group linked to former Vice President Riek Machar, who is being hunted by security forces for staging a failed coup this week. Machar denies that accusation.
The violence has heightened ethnic tensions, with Machar’s Nuer group pitted against the Dinka people of President Salva Kiir.
“The situation in Bor remains a great concern, fighting continues in the city,” U.N. spokesman Joseph Contreras said Friday by phone from Juba.
Land-locked South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to the BP Statistical Review, and exports about 220,000 barrels of oil a day through pipelines across Sudan. Jonglei is an eastern state bordering Ethiopia where Total SA has a stake in an oil-exploration concession.
Three oil workers and three ethnic Dinka civilians were killed Thursday in Unity state, Anjelo Majok, commissioner of Pariang County, said by phone.
Sixty troops will provide reinforcement Friday after a group of youths from the Nuer community tried to storm the U.N. base in Akobo, to reach about 32 ethnic Dinka civilians who were seeking refuge there, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Thursday in a statement.
Three peacekeepers and 32 civilians are missing, while another 40 peacekeepers are accounted for after the incident.
The three missing peacekeepers were Indian and they were killed, Asoke Mukerji, Indian ambassador to the United Nations, told a U.N. panel on peacekeeping operations in New York Thursday.
Two local government officials were also killed at the compound, Twic East County Commissioner Dau Akoi said Friday by phone from Akobo.
At least 900 people are sheltering at the U.N. compound in Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, Contreras said.
About 45 U.S. troops deployed to South Sudan Dec. 18 will remain in the country until the security situation has improved to the point that they “are no longer needed,” President Barack Obama said in letter to Congress.
The soldiers were sent to protect U.S. personnel and the embassy.
“South Sudan’s leaders must recognize that compromise with one’s political enemy is difficult; but recovering from unchecked violence and unleashed hatred will prove much harder,” Obama said in an emailed statement. The “U.S. will remain a steady partner of the South Sudanese people as they seek the security and prosperity they deserve.”
Uganda’s International Affairs Minister Oryem Henry Okello is among a group of African ministers traveling to South Sudan to seek a resolution to the growing conflict, the neighboring country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Thursday.
Machar said in an interview Thursday with Radio-France International that he wants Kiir to step down as president as a condition to negotiations, citing Kiir’s inability to unite the country. Kiir said on Dec. 18 that he’s ready to hold talks with Machar.
In July, Kiir fired his entire Cabinet, including Machar, after the former deputy said he will contest the 2015 presidential elections. The country has been ruled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, known as SPLM, since it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
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