Updated at 2:20 p.m. EDT | South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said Monday he ordered his army to abide by a ceasefire and would continue working with Vice President Riek Machar toward that goal. Machar, a former rebel leader, also called for calm.
Clashes between rival armed groups in South Sudan over the past week have left more than 200 people dead, including two Chinese U.N. peacekeepers, and forced 1,000 already homeless people to seek safety at the U.N. compound in Juba.
The renewed fighting, which continued for a fifth day Monday, also caused the U.S. State Department to start evacuating all nonessential staff from the new African nation.
South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan five years ago on July 9. But instead of celebrating the anniversary, many in the capital Juba had to flee heavy gunfire between armed groups loyal to either the president or vice president.
The nascent country’s leaders have been at odds for years. Although President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar signed a peace agreement last August, violence has continued, threatening to snowball into a full-scale civil war.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked and appalled” by the escalating violence. “I am deeply frustrated that despite commitments by South Sudan’s leaders, fighting has resumed,” he said.
The U.N. Security Council and U.N. mission in South Sudan called on Kiir and Machar to control their forces and commit to the ceasefire, reminding them that deliberate targeting of U.N. premises and personnel “constitutes a serious violation of international law.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby also called on the leaders to assert their control: “We again call on both leaders and their political allies and commanders to immediately restrain their forces from further fighting, return them to barracks, and prevent additional violence and bloodshed.”
Community activists are collecting the names of those killed since fighting initially broke out in December 2013. Their online memorial, called Remembering the Ones We Lost, lists more than 4,600 names.
Tens of thousands are estimated to have died in the two years of fighting, which also has displaced more than 2 million people. About 28,000 have sought shelter at the U.N. base in Juba, and another 1,000 joined them over the weekend.