South Sudanese President Salva Kiir said today that an overnight coup has been averted, blaming former Vice President Riek Machar for leading the attempt.
Kiir assured the public that the government had regained control after gunfire and explosions broke out overnight, pitting military factions against each other in the capital city of Juba. He reported that the fighting started when an unidentified man began shooting during a meeting of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), and after an attack on army headquarters.
Machar, who was dismissed along with the rest of Kiir's cabinet by the president in July, led soldiers and former politicians angry with the ruling government against members of the presidential guard. The groups were apparently divided across tribal lines as well as political ones, with members of the Dinka tribe fighting for the president, and Nuer tribe members alongside Machar. The Dinka tribe is the largest in the country and has prompted resentment among the Nuers, who make up the second-largest group, for holding the seat of power. South Sudanese Foreign Minister Marial Benjamin told the Associated Press that some former politicians were arrested, but did not specify whether Machar was among them.
The AP reports that tension in the region has been mounting since the July ouster:
Machar, who has expressed a willingness to contest the presidency in 2015, said after he was fired that if the country is to be united it cannot tolerate a "one man's rule or it cannot tolerate dictatorship." His ouster, part of a wider dismissal of the entire Cabinet by Kiir, had followed reports of a power struggle within the ruling party. At the time, the United States and the European Union urged calm amid fears the dismissals could spark political upheaval in the country.
No fatalities have been reported, but United Nations secretary-general for South Sudan special representative Hilde Johnson said the local U.N. mission was "deeply concerned" over the fighting, adding "I urge all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint. I have been in touch regularly with the key leaders, including at the highest levels to call for calm." Hundreds of people fled to the U.N. mission to avoid the violence, and several have been reported injured.
South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in 2011, making it the world's youngest nation, but the breakaway has not ended the continuing threat of war, both with the North and from within.