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Deadly Clashes In South Sudan Threaten Young Country's Future


The world's youngest nation, South Sudan, may be heading back into civil war. Violence has exploded in Juba, the capital. It's between forces loyal to the country's top two leaders, now adversaries - the president and his deputy. They have both separately called for cease-fires, but there are reports that hundreds have been killed. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports on South Sudan's grim fifth anniversary.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Shattering South Sudan's fragile peace deal, there have been more clashes in Juba between factions of the army loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and troops who back his rival and first Vice President Riek Machar. Head of UNMISS, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Loj says there have been attacks on U.N. bases which may be deemed a war crime.

ELLEN MARGRETHE LOJ: The United Nations condemns the use of heavy weapons, including rockets fired from attack helicopters, in the immediate vicinity of UNMISS protection of civilian sites. This constitutes a serious violation of international law.

QUIST-ARCTON: Hundreds of people have fled to U.N. shelters, joining tens of thousands already there since earlier bouts of fighting in Juba during the two-year civil war. The conflict was fought along political and ethnic lines between those loyal to Salva Kiir from the Dinka tribe and Riek Machar, who's from the Nuer tribe. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon is calling on the Security Council to impose an immediate arms embargo on South Sudan as well as targeted sanctions. And he says the U.N. mission must be fortified to protect civilians.


BAN KI-MOON: The renewed fighting is outrageous. It makes a mockery of commitments to peace. Yet again, the leaders of South Sudan have failed their people. Rarely has a country squandered so much promise so quickly.

QUIST-ARCTON: All eyes are on the two men, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, whom many South Sudanese blame for the country's current woes. Author of a book on the new nation Hilde Johnson was the first head of the U.N. mission in independent South Sudan. She knows both men.

HILDE JOHNSON: The challenge here is that none of the two leaders really have reconciled with each other. It doesn't seem also that adequate attempts have been made to really get that reconciliation to happen. And when there is no trust on the top, I think that permeates down to the security forces at all levels. And there's always been issues of command and control in security forces in South Sudan.

QUIST-ARCTON: The State Department has ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Juba and warned Americans to stay away from South Sudan. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.