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Three Irish citizens are 'in lockdown' seeking refuge from South Sudan violence

The three are among 260 staff from Concern Worldwide in the country.

Violence has returned not long after Sundan emerged from a civil war.
Violence has returned not long after Sundan emerged from a civil war.
Image: Euronews.

THREE IRISH CITIZENS are among thousands of people taking refuge from violence that has erupted in South Sudan.

Thousands fled renewed heavy fighting in the capital Juba today as former rebels and government soldiers exchanged fire in several parts of the city.

The battles began on the western outskirts of Juba where both former rebels and government soldiers have bases at the foot of the Jebel Kujur mountain close to a UN camp.

Fighting was heard in several other parts of the city throughout the day, including the tinderbox Gudele neighbourhood — where rebel leader turned vice president Riek Machar is headquartered — and the central Tongping area near the international airport.

Information minister Michael Makuei today blamed the former rebels for the fighting and insisted the government was “in full control of Juba” even as shooting could be heard in parts of the city.

Makuei said President Salva Kiir would call for a ceasefire later in the day.

“We are expecting his excellency the president will issue a unilateral ceasefire, binding on his forces. We hope the First Vice President Riek Machar will follow suit,” he said.

Source: euronews (in English)/YouTube

The violence comes a day after the world’s youngest country marked its fifth independence anniversary, and is a fresh blow to a peace deal that has failed to end the civil war that broke out in December 2013.

Among those caught up the chaos that followed the fighting are three Irish staff of Concern Worldwide.  The three are currently on lockdown in Juba with country director Feargal O’Connell from Dublin reporting that they are hearing regular gunfire.

Six are in the Concern office were O’Connell  is located with two other Irish citizens working with Concern are at “field” locations outside the capital.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan says he is aware of the presence of Irish citizens.

“My department is monitoring the situation closely and our Embassy team in Addis Ababa is liaising with Irish citizens in the area who are registered with the department,” he said this evening.

In total, there are reports that 10,000 people in Juba have taken refuge in different locations

City residents hunkered down or began fleeing their homes as the UN reported the use of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and “heavy ground assault weaponry”.

Helicopter gunships and tanks were also deployed during the course of the day.

A thick stream of fearful civilians, clutching children and meagre possessions, headed for the hoped-for refuge of another UN base close to the city’s airport, only to find fighting erupting there too.

More war than peace

Today’s battles were the first since Friday when brief but heavy exchanges of fire left an estimated 150 soldiers dead on both sides.

There were no immediate details of casualties from Sunday’s violence.

South Sudan has seen more fighting than peace since independence in July 2011, with civil war breaking out December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.

An August 2015 peace deal was supposed to end the conflict but observers say the peace process has stalled while fighting has continued despite the establishment of a unity government.

This week’s clashes are the first between the army and former rebels in the capital — where the war broke out — since both established positions there in April as part of the peace agreement.

Tens of thousands have died in more than two years of civil war, close to three million have been forced from their homes and nearly five million survive on emergency food rations.

The humanitarian crisis has unfolded alongside an economic one with the currency collapsing and inflation spiralling out of control. The country’s mainstay oil industry is in tatters and regional towns have been razed.

© – AFP 2016 with reporting from Rónán Duffy

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