Heavy gunfire has been reported in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, in what appears to be a widening split between President Salva Kiir and sacked vice president Riek Machar.
The United States Embassy in Juba has also sent a message on Twitter saying that gunshots and artillery fire have been heard over the past few hours in several locations in the capital. The statement urged people to take caution.
The city is now reportedly in a lockdown as fighting goes on. Residents are rushing to stock food. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Dr Machar, who was sacked as Vice President in July, is now in United Nations custody. Richard Ruati, a journalist based in Juba said on micro-blogging site, twitter, that the sustained gun battle is confined to the main Army Barracks.
So far neither President Kiir nor Dr Machar has made a statement in regards to the continued gun battle in Juba.
The two have been in a delicate alliance for two years since the country gained independence in July 2011. In July this year, Kiir dismissed Machar from office and replaced him with James Wani Igga after the two disagreed on the style of leadership.
Two days ago, senior leaders of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced that they were pulled out from the meeting of the National Liberation Council (NLC), accusing party chairman, President Kiir, of deviating from the spirit of dialogue.
The Sudan Tribune reports that senior members of the SPLM highest executive organ, the Political Bureau (PB), including deputy chairman Riek Machar, as well as members of the NLC announced that Kiir has not replicated their “good gesture for dialogue” on democracy in the party.
Earlier on Friday, the group announced the postponement of a public rally that had been due to take place on Saturday in order to inform the wider public about the party’s current affairs. Machar said the decision came following calls from SPLM supporters to postpone both the rally and NLC meeting in order to allow more time for internal political dialogue on contentious issues affecting the party.
While the rally was subsequently postponed until 20 December, the NLC meeting went ahead as planned. Machar and his colleagues had attended the first day of the NLC meeting on Saturday, where they participated in deliberations on the passing of the manifesto and the constitution.