Terrified people leave Juba to escape gun battles

Since the fragile peace in South Sudan which marked its fifth anniversary of independence on Saturday the country has remained a challenging place in which to work for charities.

Now the short lived peace has been shattered and even the few that braved the volatile find their staff and the people they serve running for cover.

The offices of The Leprosy Mission, like other charities operating there have closed.

Mary Kamilo is TLM’s project manager, based in Juba where there has been heavy fighting.

She said: “We could hear the gun battles when the conflict started on Thursday. It was terrifying. It calmed a bit on Saturday but on Sunday it started again. I could not leave my house, it was that bad.”
More than 300 people have been killed since the fresh shootout started between forces loyal to the president Salva Kiir and vice-president Riek Machar. 

Mary described chaotic scenes following the clashes involving tanks and heavy artillery which she said had forced hundreds of people to leave their homes.

“I saw elderly people and children with bags and bundles, just moving,” she said. “They don’t seem to know where they are going. They are just leaving. Many were heading towards the outskirts of the city. Some have taken refuge in churches and many more have spent the night on the banks of the river Nile.”

Mary, whose husband and two teenage children live in Nairobi stayed with neighbours until Sunday because the fighting was so bad. On Monday, when it got “a little quieter “ she travelled to her brother’s house.

“I can still hear sporadic shooting,” she said.

“Juba is full of soldiers and they are trying to calm things. In the Juba Nabari area where the American Embassy is located people are not being allowed to leave their homes.”

Mary who works on a project in Juba that includes a livelihoods programme for leprosy-affected people and a children’s education scheme where 100 children are given support with school fees, uniforms and books said the charity’s had to be shut when the fighting started.

“I have no idea what will happen and when we can re-open,” she said. “There are lots of rumours. The Minister for Information has said the situation is under control. I really hope so.”

Fighters loyal to the deputy leader are now reported to have been forced from the capital by president Salva Kiir’s soldiers. 

Dr Yousif Deng, country leader for TLM in South Sudan, also said there were “so many rumours” that some of the fighting was as a result of those rumours.

In 2013 the 49 year old doctor moved his wife Awoui Dut, 35, and his children aged eight, seven, four and one to Kampala, Uganda, where he was when the fighting started.

“During the last spate of fighting we had to hide under the bed any number of times and the children were terrified, so I moved my family to Uganda and visit them every three months,” he said.

Yousif’s wife who was a lawyer in South Sudan had to give up her job because the couple felt the children were safer in Uganda.

He said he was being kept informed or the situation in Juba by Mary and through text messages and emails from the American Embassy.

Dr Yousif, who lived in Sudan but had to move after losing his nationality when the country split added: “It is a terrible situation. 

“In the leprosy village of Lori Rokwe, near Juba, many people have fled to the banks of the river where there are valleys and bushes to hide.

“Children are not going to school and there are robberies at gunpoint.”