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Kenyan drivers recount ordeal in war-torn Juba

NAIROBI
By | July 13th 2016
UN truck drives past displaced South Sudanese families resting in a camp for internally displaced people in the United Nations Mission compound in Tomping, Juba, South Sudan. [PHOTO: REUTERS]

NAIROBI: A Kenyan truck driver caught up in the war in South Sudan recounted his horrific ordeal.

Albert Kibor from Eldoret was caught up in the fighting in Gudele, Juba and told of how armed men shot at anybody they saw.

"It was hell for Kenyans, particularly the drivers. I had to abandon my truck belonging to DT Transporters that specialises in transporting goods to Uganda and run for dear life. Luckily, I saw a bus belonging to Simba Coach returning to Kenya and the driver rescued me," Mr Kibor said.

The truck driver arrived in Kenya yesterday morning.

Kibor explained that he drove into the war zone on Friday, when he arrived in South Sudan. Fighting subsided on Saturday only to escalate the next day when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar engaged in a full-scale battle.

The Simba Coach bus driver, Musa Owalo, said he arrived in South Sudan on Friday and was caught up in the fighting. He had to brave the violence to bring 10 Kenyans back, including Kibor.

"As I sped out of the area, I saw the desperate truck driver pleading for help and stopped the bus to pick him up. I did not charge him any fare," said Mr Owalo.

"It was speed that saved us. Fighters aimed at the bus but I drove past them," he added.

The fighting that began on Thursday, according to South Sudanese Ambassador Chol Ajongo, was allegedly triggered by a propaganda Facebook post by Machar's spokesperson, James Gatdet, who claimed he had been detained at Kiir's palace. This is said to have prompted Machar-led forces to storm the palace.

RECEIVED REPORTS

The truck drivers spoke out on a day the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Union (KLDTDU) claimed it had received reports that scores of Kenyan truck drivers could have been killed in Gudele and Jabero.

Nicholas Mbugua, the KLDTDU secretary general, said they had been told the drivers could have been killed alongside their Ugandan counterparts last Saturday.

Yesterday, Mr Ajongo blamed the "imposed" parallel armies in Africa's youngest nation for the renewed fighting.

South Sudan also dismissed calls by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for a standby army to be sent to the country, citing its sovereignty. Ajongo said Mr Kiir was against the idea of having two forces under different commands since it was a recipe for civil war.

He said there were talks for the two leaders to merge the armies as part of a revision of the peace agreement signed in August last year.

Addressing the Press in Nairobi just hours after Kiir and Machar called for a ceasefire, the envoy said the decision to have two armies was imposed on the country by the region.

"We had one army when rebellion started in 2013 and peace was negotiated. We said there was no president with two armies in this region but we were perceived as against the peace deal," said Ajongo. "The region was for the two armies and that is what we got. We signed the deal."

AIRPORT RE-OPENED

Ajongo announced that Juba International Airport was re-opened yesterday and ready to receive flights. He confirmed that 272 people had died in the fighting but could not confirm if any Kenyans were among the dead.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that people were emerging from makeshift shelters in Juba after the ceasefire ended days of heavy fighting.

"We don't even know what is happening. These things, they just happen again and again, and the people of South Sudan are suffering. We need peace," Reuters quoted Samson Kenyi, a 34-year-old motorcycle taxi rider saying in the capital, Juba.

IGAD on Monday demanded an immediate return of all armies and weapons to the barracks and the re-opening of Juba International Airport.

Apart from the IGAD demands, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions on leaders and commanders blocking the implementation of the peace deal.

But the envoy said the country's army would continue to protect its integrity, adding that "there is no army armed with sticks or water guns in the world".

He said proposals to send a standby army would escalate the situation because Juba would end up having three armies.

"We will have to be informed of the legality and legitimacy of sending troops to South Sudan, whether it is going to be imposed or this will be an invasion of South Sudan," he added.

"I believe South Sudan is a sovereign country."

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