By Halima Athumani and Andrew Ross
NAIROBI, Kenya and KAMPALA, Uganda
Despite claims on Tuesday from South Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya that recent fighting in Juba has ended, neighboring Uganda has ordered its armed forces to evacuate Kampala's citizens stranded across the border.
South Sudan ambassador to Kenya, Chol Ajongo, told reporters in Nairobi on Tuesday that the official death toll from days of fighting stands at 272.
Both South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and rebel leader-turned-vice president Riek Machar called for a unilateral cease-fire on Monday in the capital Juba after several days of fierce battles between their respective forces.
Fighting broke out in the South Sudanese capital on Friday, with heavy weapons such as tanks, helicopter gunships and artillery involved, leaving thousands of people displaced or seeking shelter in United Nations properties.
Ajonjo accused Machar supporters of spreading rumors on social media that the former rebel leader had been arrested, sparking the violence.
The ambassador also confirmed that a number of people had been killed at UN compounds in Juba.
Responding to calls from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development for the two warring parties to recall their armed forces and heavy weaponry from Juba, Ajongo said he had “never seen an army which is armed with sticks; we are not exceptions unless you want to tell the South Sudanese people that they have to be armed with either water guns or sticks.
“That army will protect the sovereignty and the lives of the people of South Sudan,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has ordered his military to evacuate Kampala’s stranded citizens in South Sudan.
According to army spokesman Col. Paddy Ankunda: “The UPDF [army] will conduct safe evacuation for Ugandans trapped in South Sudan.
“The instructions are that the army will go by road to Nisitu, east of the River Nile, which is approximately 40 kilometers [25 miles] from Juba.”
It is estimated that there are about one million Ugandans running businesses in South Sudan. Tuesday’s order comes after reports that five Ugandan businessmen were killed at Aruu junction in South Sudan.
Museveni has also asked migration officials manning the Uganda/South Sudan border crossing of Nimule to allow civilians to enter while ensuring armed persons surrender their weapons before being allowed passage.
The Ugandan army fought alongside Salva Kiir’s forces at the start of the civil war in 2013. Their withdrawal from Juba was a key demand in peace talks with Vice President Riek Machar.
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