The Chairperson of the African Union Commission has condemned Friday’s gun battle in the South Sudanese capital Juba between forces loyal to president Salva Kiir and his deputy Reik Machar and charged the government to bring those behind the attack to book.
The incident followed a series of violent episodes including attacks in June in the towns of Wau and Raja which led to many deaths and the displacement of some 40,000 people.
In a statement, the AU Commission’s chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma asked the transitional government of national unity to quickly undertake “an extensive investigation and bring to court all those who instigated, planned and conducted this heinous act”.
Dr. Dlamini-Zuma said the transitional government has the “responsibility to provide the necessary political leadership to ensure that security forces operate within the limits of the law and order, and exercise maximum restraint, given that such occurrences could heighten the already very tense security situation in the country”.
The death toll from the renewed violence in Juba according to the Reuters news agency had reached 272 on Sunday.
Heavy gunfire was also said to have erupted in the city on Sunday prompting many residents to seek shelter at a UN base.
The fighting which first broke out on Thursday has raised fears that South Sudan could slide back into conflict having recently emerged from a two-year civil war.
As South Sudan celebrated its fifth independence anniversary from its northern neighbour on Saturday, the AU Commission Chair has asked the country’s leaders to “continue showing in a consistent manner to the deserving people of South Sudan, irreversible signals that peace has come back”.
A spokesman for the Kenyan government has said the east African nation was ready to support law enforcement in Juba. It however wants the country’s leaders to move heavy weaponry and huge contingents of soldiers out of civilian spaces of the capital.
Shooting erupted Friday when Kiir and Machar were engaged in talks aimed at diffusing tension in the country.
Both leaders have since called for calm and said thy did not know what sparked the violence.