Kenyan businesses on Monday scrambled to secure their assets in South Sudan amid heavy fighting in what the government described as a failed coup.
Kenyans living in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, locked themselves in their homes as the country closed its border with Kenya and Uganda and declared a dawn to dusk curfew.
Many civilians also sought refuge in the United Nations compound.
President Salva Kiir accused soldiers loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar of an attempted coup, but assured residents that his forces were in control.
Kenya Airways suspended flights to and from Juba after the international airport was closed.
In a statement signed by Chief Operating Officer Ngunze Mbuvi, the national carrier said it was closely monitoring the business activities of its three flights scheduled on Monday to South Sudan.
The airline announced that any further flights remained suspended until the situation became clear.
Kenya Airways operates between 12 and 18 flights to Juba every week.
Kenya Commercial Bank, with the highest number of branches in South Sudan of any bank since establishing operations in 2005, said it was monitoring proceedings in the oil-rich country.
Ms Judith Odhiambo, spokesperson for KCB, said they were in touch with their employees while monitoring the situation.
South Sudan accounted for 15 per cent of KCB’s Sh15.2 billion pre-tax profits in the first nine months of 2013.
Other financial institutions from Kenya operating in the country are Co-operative Bank — trading as Co-operative Bank of South Sudan, CFC Stanbic and Equity Bank.
South Sudan got its independence in 2011 after its people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to secede from the North and form a new nation.
On Monday evening, the government announced that all the more than 30,000 Kenyans in South Sudan were safe.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, however said Kenyans in Juba were safe.
“So far Kenyans and their businesses are safe.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is closely monitoring the situation through our Mission in Juba and will advice Kenyans in South Sudan accordingly,” said Dr Kibicho.
GOVERNMENT ON GUARD
Ministry spokesman Andrew Limo said the government was closely monitoring the situation and that if it worsens “our citizens will be evacuated.”
“We are informed the situation is now under control,” Mr Limo said.
A source in Juba, however, said there was tension and fears that fighting could escalate at night.
“We fear there could be civilian casualties. There has been shooting during the day.
The rebels have taken control of one barrack and we fear loyal government forces could try to push them from the barrack at night,” the source said.
The source, however, said all civilians near the barracks that had been taken over by rebels had been evacuated as it is feared the area would be a battle ground.
On Monday, Mr Kiir accused Dr Machar of backing the coup, which he blamed on a “group of soldiers aligned to former Vice President Dr Riek Machar Teny and his group” and announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew as business came to a standstill in the capital.
He accused Dr Machar, whom he fired in a July cabinet reshuffle, and who heads a splinter faction of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, of trying to split the government again.
“My government is not and will not allow the incidents of 1991 to repeat itself again,” Mr Kiir, dressed in military uniform, said in a televised address, referring to his rival’s break-away from the SPLM’s army during the war between the south and Khartoum.
Mr Kiir normally dresses in a suit and a cowboy hat.
“This prophet of doom continues to persistently pursue his actions of the past and I have to tell you that I will not allow or tolerate such incidents once again in our new nation,” he added.
Gunfire erupted near Juba University in the centre of the capital on Sunday evening, before spreading to other locations, including Gieda Military Barracks, and continuing throughout the night.
SPLA Military spokesman, Col Philip Aguer Panyang, said some soldiers were trying to loot a military base.
The UN-backed Radio Miraya said four children had been wounded, two critically. Hundreds of people, mostly women and children, sought shelter at the UN compound near the airport.
Dr Machar’s whereabouts remained unknown and the UN Mission to South Sudan denied reports it was offering him and his close associates sanctuary.
GOVERNMENT IN CONTROL
Flanked by Vice-President James Wani, Mr Kiir said his government was in control of the capital.
The gun battles broke out soon after a meeting of the ruling party’s National Liberation Council in which Dr Machar’s supporters failed to force a meeting of the political bureau, the SPLM’s highest decision-making body, to discuss the political crisis in the country.
A long-running power wrangle has split the SPLM into rival camps led by Mr Kiir, and another allied to Dr Machar, who is the deputy party chairman and has the backing of party secretary general Pagan Amum and Rebecca Nyandeng Mabior, the widow of South Sudan liberation leader John Garang de Mabior.
Dr Machar has announced plans to run for president in elections scheduled for 2015.
The contest has also taken on an ethnic hue between Mr Kiir’s Dinka, who are the largest community in South Sudan, and Dr Machar’s Nuer, the second largest group which claims discrimination.
On Monday, sources told Radio Tamazuj that national security forces had arrested at least four former ministers in Juba. Gier Chuang, a former minister of interior and later roads and bridges, was reportedly taken from his home yesterday morning.
Oyai Deng Ajak, former minister of national security, Alfred Lado Goro, former minister of environment, and Cirino Hiteng, former minsiter of culture, were also reportedly arrested.
Sources said former deputy minister of defence, Majak d’Agoot, was notified that he would be arrested.