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News and Press ReleasesGunfire Erupts in South Sudan Capital as Troops Mutiny Over Pay -- Update

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Gunfire Erupts in South Sudan Capital as Troops Mutiny Over Pay -- Update

03-05-2014, 09:02 PM
wall street online journal









Gunfire Erupts in South Sudan Capital as Troops Mutiny Over Pay -- Update

    By Nicholas Bariyo
    KAMPALA, Uganda--Gunfire erupted at a major military base in the South Sudanese capital Juba on Wednesday after troops mutinied over unpaid salaries, an indication of worsening economic strife as the world's youngest nation struggles to contain a nearly three-month-old conflict.

    The sustained gunfire that rang out at the army base sent hundreds of panicked residents scampering. Officials and witnesses said government troops were battling to control a mutiny orchestrated by unpaid troops returning from war zones.

    The fighting appeared to subside after more than two hours. But the U.S. embassy in Juba advised residents to stay indoors. Witnesses said that thick smoke could be seen billowing over the base, known as Geida, located near Juba airport.

    "We urge everyone to stay safe and remain indoors. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates," the embassy said in a statement.

    The clashes highlight the fragile security situation in Juba. In December, the South Sudanese capital was the scene of intense fighting between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those of his former deputy, Riek Machar, with more than 1,000 people killed.

    "The fighting was sparked by a quarrel between soldiers over salaries. This has now been contained," Foreign Minister Barnaba Benjamin told The Wall Street Journal.

    Witnesses said hundreds of heavily armed troops mounted roadblocks around the city on Wednesday, heightening tensions.

    Mr. Benjamin said that more than a dozen troops were arrested.

    An aid official in Juba said that at least seven troops were killed in the clashes, which also left more than a dozen injured. There was no immediate reaction from the South Sudan military.

    The Ugandan army reinforced positions near the airport.

    "The airport is functioning normally; we have heightened our vigilance" said Major Robert Ngabirano, Uganda's deputy army spokesman. Uganda has thousands of troops supporting the government army against the rebels.

    Geida is same base where troops loyal to Messrs. Kiir and Machar first clashed in December, sparking the current conflict. A rebel representative in Ethiopia claimed that mutineers at the base have pledged their allegiance to Machar, signaling worsening divisions within the military.

    South Sudan, struggling under the burden of reduced oil revenues, has introduced a new wage-payment system to troops to minimize loss of revenues. Under the new system, troops are required to get their salaries in person, which has left most troops on the front lines unpaid for months.

    The South Sudan government depends on crude exports for nearly its entire revenues, but output has dropped by at least 30% since the conflict started in December.

    Foreign oil companies have evacuated hundreds of workers and fighting continues to spread in the oil-rich state of Upper Nile, which hosts the country's only functioning oil fields.

    The current 165,000 barrels a day of production is a far cry from the 350,000 barrels a day the landlocked nation used to produce shortly after gaining independence from Sudan in July 2011. A spat over transit fees with Sudan that halted production for 15 months only ended in the middle of last year.

    Analysts say that Juba is unlikely to be able to pay its public workers and tens of thousands of troops should oil output stop completely.

    The conflict has splintered South Sudan along ethnic lines, pitting Mr. Kiir's ethnic Dinkas against the Nuer community of Mr. Machar.

    The two sides have repeatedly accused each other of violating the cease-fire deal signed in January, but both have denied the accusation.

    The conflict has displaced more than 900,000, according to the United Nations. More than 10,000 are estimated to have been killed in the conflict, according to aid officials.

    East African mediators said Tuesday that they were in talks with the African Union and the U.N. over the deployment of a "stabilization force" to restore order in the country.

    Write to Nicholas Bariyo at [email protected]
                  

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