Aid workers from Cafod have expressed their grave concern about the worsening situation in South Sudan, where 200 people are reported to have died in clashes since Friday.
Following his return from the capital Juba, CAFOD’s director of operations, Geoff O’Donoghue, said: “The country is at a fragile stage, as it marks its fifth year of independence; lives have been shattered by the conflict, and further compounded by the struggling economy, sending people deeper into poverty.
“When speaking with Archbishop Paulino, he told me that the Church will continue its pivotal role in building peace. And it was clear from the many people I met that they are determined to hold onto peace, no matter how fragile.”
Heavy explosions are shaking South Sudan’s capital Juba as clashes between government and opposition forces enter their fifth day today, witnesses say, pushing the country back toward civil war.
An Associated Press reporter in the city reported widespread shooting preventing residents from moving around.
A “massive explosion” hit shortly after 9am followed by further blasts in the Tomping area of Juba, home to embassies, the airport and a UN base, according to one aid worker.
“It rings through the whole city every time they fire,” said the aid worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press. “I think one of the tanks must be near me, my ears are burning.”
Explosions and “very heavy gunfire” sounding “like popcorn,” was reported by a resident in the Gudele area, who insisted on anonymity for safety.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan reported on Twitter that clashes restarted near its compound in Jebel, where some 30,000 civilians have taken refuge. The opposition also has a base near Jebel and their leader, First Vice President Riek Machar, also has his home there.
CAFOD and Trocaire in Partnership are working in Yirol region reaching 4,800 people with food – maize flour, beans, cooking oil and salt, as well as supplying clean water to communities by rehabilitating ten boreholes.
Francis Flood, CAFOD and Trocaire’s Country Representative, said: “Millions of people have lost their cattle, seed stores, tools, businesses or land. Our local partners are working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of people who have remained trapped behind conflict lines and those languishing in informal displaced camps, or communities.
“We will continue to work and support those affected by the conflict, and hit hardest by the country’s spiralling inflation. But, ultimately as the people of South Sudan mark five years of independence, they need its leaders to redouble their efforts towards achieving true and lasting peace and prosperity; so that people can return to their homes, schools, farms and businesses, to rebuild their lives and communities.”
Two UN peacekeepers from China were killed at the base Sunday night, according to Chinese state media. An eyewitness in the UN base who was not authorised to speak to the press told AP that he saw a government tank fire on a Chinese armoured personnel carrier.
There were 67 injuries and 8 deaths in the UN base Sunday, according to an internal situation report circulated among humanitarian organisations and seen by AP. Water tanks have not been able to bring water to the tens of thousands sheltering inside the base.
Some 10,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Juba and many are sheltering at the two U.N. bases, a World Food Program compound and other areas, said UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Matilda Moyo.
The United States told its citizens it would evacuate all non-essential staff from the country. The Canadian embassy has closed entirely, according to a message sent to its citizens. India is planning to evacuate its citizens, according to a tweet by its external affairs minister.
The weekend clashes escalated following a skirmish last Thursday in which five soldiers were killed. Since then more than 100 people have been reported killed.