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'Tense calm' in South Sudan, 36,000 displaced following heavy fighting - UN

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'Tense calm' in South Sudan, 36,000 displaced following heavy fighting - UN

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Days of heavy fighting in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, have been followed by relative calm after the warring president and vice president ordered their forces to cease fire.

Officials from First Vice President Riek Machar’s side say he is ready for talks with his rival, Salva Kiir.

Meanwhile, a senior military officer in Machar’s armed opposition faction announced his troops would no longer fight government forces.

“I am declaring today that the forces under me aren’t fighting government forces: they will not fight government. South Sudanese people are requesting… it is for the people of South Sudan to have peace. We do not want to continue in senseless war,” said General Dau Aturjong.

One key element of an August 2015 peace deal in South Sudan promoted merging their rival forces.

UN response

Hundreds of people have died in the conflict, including United Nations personnel.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) welcomed the ceasefire, but described “a tense calm overnight.” It is calling for all parties to ensure safe passage for people fleeing the situation.

Alessandra Vellucci, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) described the situation for the internally displaced.

“Preliminary estimates indicate that at least 36,000 people have been displaced by the fighting and are seeking shelter in UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) POC (Protection of Civilians) sites and many other locations across the city. Most of the affected people are women and children. Access to those in need is limited by the ongoing fighting and insecurity,” she said.

The World Health Organization has delivered medical supplies to a POC site in Juba, as well as 51,000 kilos of emergency health kits to the capital. It says some people are trapped in schools and churches without access to water and sanitation.

What happened?

Violence erupted in the world’s newest nation on Thursday (July 7), raising fears of a return to full-blown civil war.

Forces loyal to the president and vice president fought it out with anti-aircraft guns, attack helicopters and tanks, just five years after South Sudan gained independence.

Until that point, a peace deal had been in place for almost one year. It was hoped the accord would bring an end to two years of civil war between supporters of Kiir (the Nuer group) and those backing Machar (Dinka).

The outbreak of heavy fighting in December 2013 was sparked when Kiir sacked Machar. Thousands died in the conflict, more than 2.5 million people were forced to flee their homes and almost 6.5 million were left struggling to find food.

Machar returned to the capital in April 2016 and, in a step considered vital to securing the peace, retook the role of vice president.

However, the relationship between him and his president remained fragile, however.

Forces loyal to Machar claim the renewed violence in July 2016 was triggered by the shooting of one of his officers.

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