Juba (AFP) - At least five soldiers died when heavy fighting broke out in the main military barracks in war-torn South Sudan's capital Juba on Wednesday, underscoring serious tensions within the national army as it battles a rebel uprising.
Fierce gunfire lasting two hours was heard coming from the main barracks near Juba University, home to the presidential guards and other elite troops.
The government played down the violence as resulting from a “misunderstanding” over pay. Army spokesman Malak Ayuen told AFP five soldiers had been killed and that those found responsible would face a court martial.
“It's unfortunate that this morning fighting ensued among the commandos themselves over salary,” he said. “What happened was a misunderstanding among the commandos and it ended in their unit.”
According to independent Tamazuj radio, the fighting started after soldiers argued with a military pay committee who refused to hand over their salaries because they were not on the list. The station reported that dozens had been killed.
Other local media carried unconfirmed reports that the fighting broke out between guards loyal to President Salva Kiir and a commando unit under top general Gatwech Gai, who had been placed under arrest.
The U.S. embassy in Juba issued a statement advising people to stay indoors as hundreds of terrified residents flooded the main church in Juba, fearing a major outbreak of violence.
“When the fighting started we immediately ran to the church for protection,” said Annet Sitima, a local woman.
The conflict in South Sudan started in the capital Juba under similar circumstances nearly three months ago amid tensions within the ruling party between President Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar.
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