Rolla Hinedi, Associated Press
JUBA, South Sudan — Gunfire continued to ring out in South Sudan's capital, Juba, Tuesday as the military "cleared out remnants" of soldiers accused of mounting a coup attempt, the foreign minister said, as more than 13,000 people sought refuge at United Nations facilities.
The coup attempt happened on Sunday when a group of soldiers raided the weapons store within the main army barracks in Juba but were repulsed by loyalists, sparking gunfights Sunday night and early Monday, Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told The Associated Press. He described the alleged coup plotters as "disgruntled" but gave no other details.
At least 26 people, mostly soldiers, have since died in the violence, according to Makur Maker, a senior Ministry of Health official. Other groups put the casualties in the hundreds.
The fighting has forced about 13,000 people to seek shelter inside or in the immediate outskirts of two U.N. facilities in Juba, according to the U.N.
The South Sudanese military has arrested five political leaders with suspected links to the coup attempt and many more are still being traced, said Benjamin. Chief among the wanted is former Vice President Riek Machar, who is now believed to be in hiding after he was identified by President Salva Kiir as the political leader favored by a faction of soldiers who tried to seize power earlier this week, he said.
"They are still looking for more ... who are suspected of being behind the coup," Benjamin said, referring to the military.
The United States Embassy in Juba and the U.N. Mission in South Sudan denied they are harboring Machar, he said.
The hunt for Machar, an influential politician who is one of the heroes of a brutal war of independence waged against Sudan, threatens to send the world's youngest country into further political upheaval following months of a power struggle between Kiir and his former deputy.
Machar, the deputy leader of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement, said he would contest the presidency in 2015 after Machar fired him in July. He has openly criticized Kiir, saying that if the country is to be united it cannot tolerate "one man's rule or it cannot tolerate dictatorship."
The international community has repeatedly urged South Sudan's leaders to exercise restraint amid fears the military's actions in the aftermath of the attempted coup could spark wider ethnic violence.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon told Kiir in a telephone conversation Tuesday that he expected him "to exercise real leadership at this critical moment, and to instill discipline in the ranks of the (Sudanese military) to stop this fighting among them," according to Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the secretary-general's office.
There are "disturbing reports of ethnically-targeted killings," with most of the fighting pitting soldiers from Kiir's majority Dinka tribe against those from the Nuer tribe of Machar, said Casie Copeland, the South Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group.
"The fighting has been fierce and parts of Juba have been reduced to rubble," she said. "Reported casualty figures are well over 500 and we should expect this figure to increase. The conduct of the (Sudanese military) in the coming days will be a good indicator of how South Sudan will come out of this and how ethnic diversity will be managed moving forward."
The oil-rich East African nation has been plagued by ethnic tension since it broke away from Sudan in 2011. In the rural Jonglei state, where the government is trying to put down a rebellion, the military itself faces charges of widespread abuses against the Murle ethnic group of rebel leader David Yau Yau.
Muhumuza reported from Kampala, Uganda. AP reporter Cara Anna at the U.N. contributed to this report.
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