Nearly two weeks after shooting broke out in the compound of South Sudan’s presidential palace, the country’s president Salva Kiir, has shed some light on the day’s events.
Gunfire broke out in the afternoon of July 8 at the presidential palace at a time when Kiir and his two vice presidents were in a meeting at the presidential palace. It then spread to other parts of the capital Juba.
The fighting happened just a day before the country was due to celebrate its fifth independence anniversary.
I ordered my car to be brought. When my car was here, I was just covering Dr Riek with my body.
“I was sitting here, flanked by my two vice presidents. All of a sudden, fighting broke out. Just outside the fence here, and the firing was very heavy”, Kiir told the China Central Television (CCTV).
The gun battle was between forces loyal to Salva Kiir and those loyal to his first deputy, Reik Machar.
But in the interview, Kiir did not give details about what led to the fight. He however indicated that someone came to the meeting with a gun although guns were not allowed.
“Well it is not allowed to come to a meeting with a gun. But if somebody comes with it, that means he has an intention of what he should do. But I cannot predict from him — he did not say whether he wanted to assassinate me, or because it is the people who plotted a coup against any president. This is what they do. You must kill him so that he is not there any longer. Whether you will survive it or not, that will be up to you.”
Kiir however said in the midst of the raging gun battle, he was not worried about his life “instead, I was worried about his life”, an apparent reference to his first vice president.
“The officers and men who were around from my headquarters were not friendly to him. The eyes that they were looking at him [with] indicated that should I be missing for a minute, I would not find him there alive, but I kept warning those people. Once I see their faces, I would just wave my finger,” he said.
Eventually, he said, he sought to prioritise the safety of Reik Machar.
“I ordered my car to be brought. When my car was here, I was just covering Dr Riek with my body.
“I became his shield. Vice President Wani was behind him. I opened the door of the car. All of us shield him. Should anybody angry release a bullet, that bullet should fall on us first,” he said.
The president said “we bid him farewell” when Machar entered the vehicle escorted by his (Kiir) troops and “I told him that if you reach home, you let me know that you have reached safely, which he did.”
Kiir however said he has since not seen nor heard from Machar.
It is still not clear what triggered the violence which claimed nearly 300 lives.
There are however reports which suggest that the fighting started when Salva Kiir’s forces demanded to search a truck being used by Reik Machar’s forces.