South Sudan Arrests Ex-Ministers After 40 Die After Coup Attempt

At least 40 people were killed in violence sparked by what South Sudanese President Salva Kiir described as an attempted coup by soldiers supporting former Vice President Riek Machar, a Health Ministry official said.

The government said it had arrested at least 10 people, including former ministers, and was seeking to detain Machar.

About 130 people were wounded in the fighting, Health Ministry Undersecretary Makur Matur Kariom said today in an interview after visiting Juba Teaching Hospital. About 16,000 people have taken refuge at two United Nations military bases near Juba, capital of the world’s newest nation, Toby Lanzer, UN deputy special representative to South Sudan, said today on his Twitter account.

The renewed gunfire followed Kiir’s address on state television yesterday saying the government was in control after attacks in Juba, including one at a meeting of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement on Dec. 15. The curfew will be enforced between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., he said, dressed in military fatigues. The U.S. and the U.K. warned citizens in Juba to be careful amid reports of continuing fighting.

“These people are criminals,” Kiir said. “This is not the first time they attempted a coup. We don’t want a country of lawlessness.”

The death toll may rise because the figures the Health Ministry has don’t include casualties at a military hospital near the army barracks where the unrest started on Dec. 15, Kariom said.

‘Ethnic Tensions’

The UN Special Representative to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, today urged the country’s leaders “to refrain from any action that fuels ethnic tensions and exacerbates violence.”

Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, fired Machar, a Nuer, in July along with the entire cabinet after the former deputy said he will contest the 2015 presidential elections. Machar is in Juba and hasn’t been arrested, James Gatdet Dak, his spokesman, said by phone yesterday. Dak declined to comment on Kiir’s statement.

“Clearly the tensions has been there for a long time, and it will be difficult to bring everything back to normal,” Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa Project Director at Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said today by phone from Nairobi, Kenya. “But the events of the last 48 hours and the talk about ethnic groups being targeted will make existing disputes even more difficult to resolve.”

Ex-Ministers Arrested

The president’s office said on its website those detained include Deng Alor, former minister of cabinet affairs, Oyay Deng Ajak, former head of national security, Madut Biar, one-time telecommunications minister, and Gier Chaung, former roads minister, according to the statement. Others held are ex-justice minister, John Luk, former sports minister, Cirino Hteng, Majak Agot, one-time deputy defense minister.

Four other people, including Pagan Amum, the SPLM secretary-general and former chief negotiator in talks with Sudan, are still being sought, according to the statement.

The fighting underscores “President Kiir’s continuing vulnerability at the helm of the world’s youngest, and among its most fragile, countries,” Philippe de Pontet, Africa director at Eurasia Group, said by e-mail yesterday. “An important signpost will be whether tensions within the military, which have both an ethnic and political overlay, can be contained in coming days and weeks.”

Oil Production

South Sudan split from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011, taking three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil output. The land-locked nation has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to the BP Statistical Review, and exports about 220,000 barrels of oil a day through pipelines across Sudan. A dispute with Sudan in 2012 over export revenues led to a 15-month freeze in crude production that cut South Sudan’s economy in half.

Oil production hasn’t been affected, Mawien Makol Arik, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said. China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd. produce most of its crude. “Oil production is still going on,” he said.

Nairobi-based Kenya Airways Ltd. said it canceled flights to South Sudan, following information that the airport in Juba wasn’t receiving landings, spokeswoman Alice Odero said yesterday by phone. Fly540 Kenya also canceled its flights between Nairobi and Juba, Operations Director Nixon Ooko said in a statement.

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