A number of South Sudanese soldiers have been killed in a shoot-out at the main barracks in the capital, Juba, which authorities attribute to rancorous disagreements during salary payment.
The South Sudanese Ambassador to Uganda, Mr Samuel Lwate, told this newspaper last night that five soldiers died in the skirmishes. Other security sources speaking on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter, however, put the death toll at 25 – 30
The paymasters, he said, refused and some of the disgruntled officers opened fire. Five died in the resulting Wednesday morning skirmish.
An attempt to arrest senior SPLA commander Gatwich Gai Nuer, and not pay dispute, touched off the shootings, another source close to South Sudan Intelligence said on condition of anonymity.
Businesses and institutions closed momentarily in Juba on Wednesday, but some resumed operations after an uneasy calm returned to the capital in the afternoon.
Another volley of sporadic shooting again erupted in the night in which a Uganda trader there said up to six Ugandans were killed and another went missing.
“There are no Ugandan casualties in the shoot-out,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Fred Opolot said, quoting Uganda’s ambassador to Juba, Maj Gen Robert Rusoke.
South Sudanese officials insisted on head count during pay to establish the number of those who died, defected to Riek Machar’s rebel side or fled the country since fighting broke out last December, according to officials. Attempts by some soldiers to sign for their absent colleagues therefore prompted suspicion.
Amb Lwate said yesterday that the night shoot-out was a mop-up operation in which about 10 “trouble causers”, who allegedly stirred but survived the morning clashes, were arrested. They have been detained at an undisclosed military facility pending interrogation.
In Kampala, UPDF Spokesman Paddy Ankunda said Ugandan troops who deployed in South Sudan three months to guard vital state installations were not involved in the latest fights. The shooting, he said, happened inside SPLA barracks and later near the headquarters of the ruling SPLM.
“We are very far [from those sites] and were not involved,” the Colonel said. “We have adequate deployment to guarantee security for flights in and out of Juba international airport,” he said, disputing earlier reports of brief flight suspension.
UPDF deployed in South Sudan after President Salva Kiir reportedly sought help from President when a large segment of heavily-armed SPLA allied to former Vice President Riek Machar broke ranks and threatened to topple him.