At least five soldiers were killed and two others wounded on Thursday evening in clashes in South Sudan’s capital Juba between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, officials have confirmed.
The two sides have given conflicting accounts of how the clashes erupted.
Brig-Gen Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesman for President Salva Kiir, said soldiers of the former rebel force led by Machar — Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) — attacked a checkpoint mounted by troops of President Kiir.
“Our forces were doing a search for vehicles with tinted wind screens when a vehicle carrying the bodyguards of First Vice President (Machar) approached them, opened fire and killed five Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers and two were wounded,” Koang said.
Koang said the two army factions had agreed to investigate the incident with the help of peace monitors to help defuse the renewed tension in a country that is still recovering from more than two years of civil war.
“The SPLA military command is treating this as an isolated case that will be investigated by the peace monitors. And we also leave that blame on who started shooting to the committee that will be formed,” he said.
However, James Gatdet Dak, a spokesperson for First Vice President Machar, said in a statement that SPLA forces attacked SPLM-IO soldiers who were taking food to their base in Jebel Kujur area.
He said two SPLM-IO soldiers sustained injuries in the gun fight.
“There were military clashes between 10 of our soldiers and forces of the SPLA at around 8:00 p.m. on Thursday in Juba. SPLA forces attacked our soldiers from the protection unit who were traveling in a vehicle on Gudele road in the town,” Dak said.
He however said calm had returned to the capital city after Kiir and Machar called for restraint and vowed to constrain their respective forces.
South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 following a falling out between President Kiir and his then sacked deputy Machar.
Under a peace deal signed by the two under UN pressure last August, a unity government was formed in April with Machar returning to his old post.
Tensions have risen between the army factions in the past week after SPLM-IO accused President Kiir’s forces of allegedly targetting them and killing a high-ranking intelligence officer, culminating in Thursday’s deadly incident.
The incident came ahead of South Sudan’s fifth independence day on Saturday.
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