President Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered the military to evacuate Kenyans trapped in South Sudan, as the government confirmed that at least two Kenyans had died and six others injured in the deepening crisis.
The President issued the orders yesterday as it emerged that at least 1,600 Kenyans are still stranded in the restive South Sudan, but thousands of others have made their way out through Uganda.
The Head of State also directed that emergency supplies, including food, water and medicine, be delivered to South Sudan — the scene of fierce clashes between rival army units and armed civilians, that is increasingly taking an ethnic dimension.
“So far two Kenyans have been killed and another six have suffered gunshot wounds from stray bullets during the fighting in Juba and Bor.
The four injured in Juba were admitted, treated and discharged from the hospital in Juba and later evacuated with the assistance of the embassy on December 18,” said Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed.
Saturday, two Kenya Air Force and Kenya Airways planes were said to have delivered seven tonnes of food supplies to Juba.
“The delivery of these emergency supplies by the Kenyan military started this morning,” read a statement by Mr Manoah Esipisu, the State House Spokesperson.
Mr Kenyatta said many of those trapped in South Sudan were mainly in Bor Town, Jonglei State, where there has been heavy fighting between armed groups loyal to a general who defected and government forces trying to recapture it after the rebels’ take-over.
Other Kenyans are thought to be in Rumbek, Ayod and Panyabol.
REBELS ATTACK US MILITARY AIRCRAFT
The Associated Press reported on Saturday that South Sudan rebels fired at a US military aircraft, wounding three soldiers, pointing out the difficulties the Kenyan troops might face in executing their mission.
Other reports indicated that two Ugandan Mi-24 attack helicopters and two jets that were involved in a similar evacuation came under fire immediately after they left Bor with their evacuees.
The Ugandan soldiers had been deployed in Juba following a request by the country’s government to help secure the city. They had also been tasked with evacuating a batch of civilians from the ongoing violence.
The evacuation of Kenyans trapped in the country began on Wednesday last week when 13 buses carrying them, Ugandans and other foreigners crossed into Uganda. It is still not clear whether the estimated 1,600 Kenyans are the only ones trapped in the country.
HAVE NOT RESIGNED
Statistics from the ministry of Foreign Affairs indicate that there are at least 25,000 Kenyans living and working in South Sudan, but many believe that there could be more who may have not registered with the Kenyan embassy.
South Sudanese soldiers have been fighting among themselves since Sunday — leading to the death and injury of hundreds of people.
The fighting has been between Sudan People’s Liberation Army soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and those supporting the vice-president he sacked in July, Dr Riek Machar.
When fighting broke out, President Kiir, dressed in military uniform, said there had been an attempted coup, a claim Dr Machar, who is on the run, denies.
Last week, the government confirmed four Kenyans had been injured in the fighting. Three of them were in the buses that crossed into Uganda while one remained in South Sudan.
Yesterday, President Kenyatta said the government was keenly following the events in South Sudan, especially the talks by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development leaders, who are currently discussing a political solution to the fighting.
Kenya is represented in the negotiations by Ms Mohamed. President Kenyatta said on Saturday that the government had sent an additional team of seasoned mediators to help with the dialogue.
They include General (rtd) Lazarus Sumbeiywo, who played a key role in mediating peace in Sudan; Ambassador Bethwel Kiplagat, Rev Julius Kobia, Rongo MP Dalmas Otieno, Ambassador Elijah Matibo and former legislator Mark Too.
“As you are well aware, this week started with South Sudan facing a number of serious challenges that threaten Africa’s youngest state, and a stable partner in our drive to grow the infrastructure in our region,” read the statement.
“The South Sudan capital of Juba has returned to relative calm, which has allowed dialogue to kick in. A ministerial delegation from the development agency IGAD is already in Juba and has started mediation between the parties involved.
“Despite the relative calm in Juba, a number of other South Sudan towns have come under fire…We remain engaged with the Government of South Sudan as well as other players in the conflict, as a good neighbour would. We look forward to full normalcy being restored to the South Sudan as soon as is possible.”
The Kenyan Government demanded the immediate cessation of hostilities in South Sudan.
Ms Mohammed spoke after a three-day mission by Igad Foreign ministers in Juba, during which the leaders met several leaders including President Kiir. The minister called on South Sudan’s military and other armed groups to protect civilians and humanitarian workers.
The minister said about 1,000 Kenyans had sought refuge at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan compound in Bor and another 60 in the World Food Programme and UNMISS camps in Bentiu.
Ms Mohammed said since the violence broke out a week ago, embassy staff had monitored the situation and advised Kenyans on the best action to take to ensure their safety.
For instance, she revealed, they issued at least 2,000 emergency travel documents at no fee to those who lost the essential document and needed to evacuate from the country.
She said in the first two days of the fighting, close to 200 Kenyans sought refuge at the Kenya Embassy in Juba where they were received and spent two days at the embassy compound.
The mission headed by Ambassador Cleveland Leshore, provided water and the available food items to them. There are also fears that the fighting could trigger an influx of refugees into the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya.