Violence in South Sudan claims more than 400 lives, UN says

Photo: Violence in South Sudan claims more than 400 lives, UN says / Arabic region

Between 400 and 500 people have been killed in violence this week between army units in South Sudan, UN officials said, as Reik Machar, the former vice president accused of leading the mutinous soldiers, denied in a newspaper interview Wednesday that he was behind a coup attempt, dpa reported.

Violence first broke out on Sunday evening in Juba and has since spread to other parts of the country, including Jonglei State, an area prone to ethnic clashes.

President Salva Kiir, whose government officially said 68 soldiers died, blamed the mutiny on Machar at a press conference on Monday.

"What took place in Juba was a misunderstanding between presidential guards within their division. It was not a coup attempt. I have no connection with or knowledge of any coup attempt," Machar was quoted as saying by the Sudan Tribune, an online newspaper, in his first remarks this week.

Machar, who was dismissed as vice president in July by Kiir during a cabinet reshuffle that saw several other ministers lose their jobs, said the president was becoming autocratic.

"We don't want him the president of South Sudan any more," Machar said in the interview.

Analysts had expected Machar to launch a campaign against Kiir come the 2015 elections in the country, the world's newest nation.

More than 13,000 civilians have sought shelter at the United Nations compound in Juba.

There appears to be a strong ethnic element to the fighting, pitting the rival Dinka and the Nuer people against each other. South Sudanese government officials have tried to downplay the tribal angle.

The US Embassy has said it would evacuate all non-essential staff from Juba.

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