Tension had been mounting in South Sudan since Kiir fired Machar as his deputy in July. 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.
While Kiir is leader of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party, many of the dismissed ministers, including Machar, were key figures in the rebel movement that fought a decades-long war against Sudan that led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Machar, a deputy chairman of the ruling party, is one of the country’s most influential politicians.
The local Sudan Tribune newspaper reported on its website that military clashes erupted late Sunday between members of the presidential guard in fighting that seemed to pit soldiers from Kiir’s Dinka tribe against those from the Nuer tribe of Machar.
In a message to American citizens Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Juba said it had received “reports from multiple reliable sources of ongoing security incidents and sporadic gunfire in multiple locations” across Juba.
“The U.S. Embassy has not been able to confirm that gunfire and insecurity have fully ceased,” the message said. “The embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens exercise extra caution at all times. The U.S. Embassy will continue to closely monitor the security environment in South Sudan, with particular attention to Juba city and its immediate surroundings, and will advise U.S. citizens further if the security situation changes.”
Hilde Johnson, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for South Sudan, said in a statement that the U.N. mission in Juba was “deeply concerned” over the fighting that broke out late Sunday and which continued Monday.
“As the Special Representative of the Secretary General I urge all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint,” the statement sad.