U.S. embassy partially evacuates staff in South Sudan fighting

JUBA , South Sudan, July 11 (UPI) — The United States ordered non-essential personnel to leave its Juba, South Sudan, embassy Monday as violent clashes overtook the city.

Forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir engaged in gun battles with those allied with Vice President Riek Machar since Thursday, forcing residents to seek shelter at a nearby U.N. compound caught in the crossfire. The intensity of the violence increased Sunday. The two fighting factions have unsuccessfully attempted to implement a power-sharing arrangement since 2014.

A U.S. embassy announcement said, “To be clear, this is as reduction in staff, not an evacuation,” advising U.S. citizens in South Sudan to “shelter in a safe location … and avoid non-essential movements.”

Sunday the U.S. State Department referred to a “sudden and serious deterioration” in the conflict, as heavy fighting broke out near a U.N. building. The International Committee of the Red Cross said all its activities in the city were suspended Friday.

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A U.N. statement said Chinese and Rwandan troops were victims of attacks, and Chinese state media said two Chinese peacekeepers were killed when their armored vehicle was struck by a mortar shell Sunday. One died immediately, and the other several hours later, China Central Television reported; five others were injured.

Another Chinese peacekeeper was killed several weeks ago in South Sudan as China increased its presence in the country.

At least 10,000 people have been displaced by the violence, said Matilda Moyo of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Juba. A World Food Program spokesman said a shelter at its compound, also near the fighting and prepared to hold 100 people, now contains about 3,000.

Helicopter gunships were seen flying above Juba as government tanks rolled through the city. Juba’s airport was closed, and Kenya Airlines announced it suspended service to the city due to the “uncertain security situation.” While no official death count has been announced, estimates of 150 to 270 people killed in the fighting were reported.

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