NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Five South Sudanese government soldiers were killed in a shootout Thursday night between opposing army factions in the capital, a military official said Friday.
A convoy of soldiers loyal to former rebel leader and sitting First Vice President Riek Machar opened fire on a checkpoint in Juba manned by troops from President Salva Kiir’s faction, said Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesman for government troops. Koang said five of the soldiers were killed
“We returned fire but it was limited fire,” he said.
But William Gatjieth, a spokesman for Machar’s faction, accused Kiir’s soldiers of firing on an opposition convoy as it approached the checkpoint in the Gudele area of Juba. He said two soldiers from his side were wounded.
The opposing army factions have been stationed in Juba since April, part of a peace deal signed last year to unite the warring factions after more than two years of civil war in which tens of thousands of people were killed.
The two sides are meant to hold joint patrols to keep peace in the city, where violence broke out in December 2013 after a skirmish between soldiers in a barracks. However, the two sides have yet to work together in the city and remain stationed in separate areas.
Gatjieth demanded that Kiir’s forces allow opposition soldiers to join them at checkpoints and carry out security operations together.
The conflict research group International Crisis Group warned last week that the country could return to full-scale war because the two sides are not showing willingness to implement security arrangements.
The Thursday clash follows rising tension in the city. Gatjieth accused the government of killing two opposition soldiers in Juba last week.
International organizations have limited their movements in recent days. The United Nations mission said Thursday that they stepped up patrols around their base in response but would not increase patrols in the city.
“The danger all along is with so many soldiers in this so-called demilitarized city of Juba that some kind of spark could set the whole thing off,” said John Young, a South Sudan expert with the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey research group.