South Sudan violence claims 2 Indian peacekeepers, UN starts evacuation news
21 December 2013

The United Nations on Friday sent four helicopters to evacuate staff from one of its bases in South Sudan's Jonglei state where two Indian peacekeepers and at least 20 civilians were killed on Thursday as violence gripped the world's youngest nation.

Some reports had earlier said that three Indian peacekeepers were killed while some other reports said two of them died and a third one was injured in a crossfire between two warring ethnic groups.

Additional directorate general of public information at the Army Headquarters at the ministry of defence in New Delhi confirmed the news in a Tweet: Sub Dharmesh Sangwan and Sub Kumar Pal Singh were "killed in crossfire protecting Dinka tribes from hundreds of armed rebels."

Reports said about 1,500-2,000 rebels from South Sudan's second-largest ethnic group, the Nuer, stormed the base of UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Akobo in Jonglei state, targeting civilians of the majority Dinka ethnic community.

The base housed 43 Indian peacekeepers along with six UN police advisers and two civilians.

Fighting continued to spread on Friday in two states, Unity - an oil area - and Jonglei, as armed groups opposed to the nation's military emerged, reports said.

Land-locked South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to the BP Statistical Review, and exports about 220,000 barrels of oil a day through pipelines across Sudan. Jonglei is an eastern state bordering Ethiopia where Total SA (FP) has a stake in an oil-exploration concession.

Three oil workers and three ethnic Dinka civilians were also reported to have been killed yesterday in Unity state. The attacks caused a drop in oil production at the Unity field and the government said it would send forces to secure oil fields and prevent more attacks.  South Sudan Petroleum Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said output should be back to normal attack levels soon.

Meanwhile, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh Ltd chairman today said he would recall officials from South Sudan if the need arises.

South Sudan has been in turmoil since President Salva Kiir accused his ex-deputy Riek Machar of mounting a coup.

The situation in South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been tense for months, but it has quickly deteriorated in the past five days, since the president accused his former vice president, Riek Machar, of attempting a military coup, which Machar denied.

There have been unconfirmed reports that more than 500 people have been killed and that sectarian violence between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups have been inflamed.

Kiir, a Dinka, has blamed the violence on a group of soldiers who support Machar, a Nuer.

Machar, meanwhile, has called upon Kiir to quit as he has failed to unite the nation.

The UNMISS said about 30 South Sudanese had sought shelter from the turmoil plaguing areas of Akobo County.

The UNMISS, in a statement, strongly condemned the attack. The UN has said there were reports of more casualties but did not give any further details.

The mission said it is doing everything possible to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the assault on the base and secure the safety of its personnel who remain there.

Earlier on Friday, the mission said on Twitter that a total of 34,000 people had taken refuge at its facilities. Around 20,000 people were housed at its two compounds in Juba and up to 14,000 at its compound in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, about 125 miles north of Juba, the mission said. Diplomats expressed fears about the potential for a civil war.

Britain, which began evacuating its nationals on Thursday, said on Friday that it would send a second airplane to the capital Juba.

The United States suspended operations at its embassy in Juba this week and offered similar advice to Americans.

In a letter to Congress released on Thursday night, President Obama said that 45 American troops had been sent to South Sudan to ''support the security of US personnel and our embassy.''

The United Nations, which has been operating in South Sudan for years and aided its transition to independence, has a tense relationship with the government, and South Sudanese officials have accused the organisation of taking sides in the simmering conflict with Sudan.

In April, seven United Nations employees and five Indian peacekeepers were killed in an ambush in Jonglei that South Sudan attributed to rebels. A year ago, the military, in what it called a miscommunication, shot down a United Nations helicopter, killing all four Russian crew members.

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South Sudan violence claims 2 Indian peacekeepers, UN starts evacuation