500 killed in South Sudan after coup attempt

InternationalCivilians arrive at a UN shelter near Juba on Tuesday. REUTERS

Clashes between military factions in South Sudan have spread from the capital to the rural state of Jonglei, a South Sudanese military official said Wednesday. Up to 500 people are reported to have been killed since Sunday in the world's newest country.

A South Sudanese military spokesman Col Philip Aguer said that there was fighting overnight among troops in Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, and he was trying to confirm reports there of desertions from the military. United Nations diplomats said as many as 500 people have been killed in violence that is believed to be largely along ethnic lines. About 20,000 people have sought refuge at UN facilities in Juba, the capital, since fighting started on Sunday, and on Tuesday the United States ordered its citizens to leave South Sudan immediately.

President Salva Kiir said in an address to the nation on Monday that his government had foiled a coup attempt by a group of soldiers loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, who is now the subject of a manhunt by Sudan's military. Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said Wednesday that Machar is believed to have fled Juba and that the government believes he is in hiding.

"If he wants to become president, he needs to wait for elections,'' Benjamin said. "He wants to be president, but in the wrong way.''

At least 10 political leaders have been arrested over their roles in the alleged coup, the government said late Tuesday.

The clashes are pitting soldiers from the majority Dinka tribe of Kiir against those from Machar's Nuer ethnic group.

Tension had been mounting in South Sudan since Kiir fired Machar as his deputy in July. Machar, who has said he will contest the presidency in 2015, said that if the country is to be united it cannot tolerate a "one man's rule or it cannot tolerate dictatorship.''

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