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In South Sudan Sporadic firing in Juba as bishops call for peace

Heavy fighting Sunday between the army and former rebels, involving tanks, helicopter gunships, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades prompted thousands of civilians to flee in search of safety.

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Sporadic firing in Juba as bishops call for peace play

Sporadic firing in Juba as bishops call for peace

(AFP)

Sporadic gunfire echoed round parts of Juba on Monday, a day after fresh clashes in the South Sudan capital sent thousands fleeing and threatened the young nation's shaky peace deal.

Firing from automatic weapons could be heard in two areas of the city on Monday morning, an AFP journalist and a humanitarian worker said, but nothing to match the scale of the violence seen a day earlier.

Heavy fighting Sunday between the army and former rebels, involving tanks, helicopter gunships, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades prompted thousands of civilians to flee in search of safety.

The clashes, the first between the army and ex-rebels in Juba since rebel leader Riek Machar returned to take up the post of vice president in a unity government in April, began on Friday when 150 soldiers were killed in brief but heavy exchanges of fire. Local media gave a higher toll of 270.

It is not clear how many were killed in Sunday's violence, which came a day after South Sudan marked its fifth anniversary of independence.

The violence marks a fresh blow to the peace deal which has failed to end the civil war that broke out in December 2013, when President Salvia Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.

The fighting subsided during the night as heavy rainstorms battered Juba -- adding to the hardships of civilians who had fled their homes.

South Sudanese people forced from their homes by armed clashes wait to be registered at a camp for internally displaced people in Wau, in May 2016

An appeal for calm by the South Sudan Council of Churches, representing the country's bishops, was played repeatedly on the radio from Sunday.

"We condemn all acts of violence without exception. The time for carrying and using weapons has ended, now is the time to build a peaceful nation," the message said.

The UN Security Council on Sunday pressed South Sudan's neighbours to help end the renewed fighting, asking for extra peacekeepers and also demanding Machar and President Salva Kiir rein in their forces.

Washington said it was ordering all non-essential personnel out of the country and urged both sides to "restrain their forces from further fighting, return them to barracks and prevent additional violence and bloodshed."

- 'Shocked and appalled' -

South Sudan's information minister Michael Makuei blamed the former rebels for the violence and insisted on Sunday afternoon that the government was "in full control of Juba".

South Sudan President Salva Kiir (C), followed by Vice President James Wani Igga (2nd R), leave a press conference as artillery fire breaks out near the presidential palace in Juba on July 8, 2016

Regional leaders, including from Kenya and Sudan, urged an end to the fighting and plan to hold a special summit in Nairobi on Monday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "shocked and appalled" at the resumption in fighting and urged both sides to halt the violence.

Makuei said Kiir would call for a ceasefire.

"We are expecting his excellency the president will issue a unilateral ceasefire, binding on his forces. We hope the First Vice President Riek Machar will follow suit," he said.

Aid workers said a UN camp housing around 28,000 people previously uprooted by the war had been caught in the crossfire, wounding some civilians.

A steady stream of people clutching children and possessions headed for the hoped-for refuge of another UN base close to the city's airport on Sunday, only to find fighting erupting there as well. There were also reports of hundreds of South Sudanese crossing into neighbouring Uganda.

Kenya Airways suspended flights to Juba on Sunday, citing the "uncertain security situation".

South Sudan has seen more fighting than peace since independence in July 2011, and an August 2015 peace deal was supposed to end the conflict but fighting has continued despite the establishment of a unity government.

Tens of thousands have died in the violence, with close to three million forced from their homes and nearly five million survive on emergency food rations.

The humanitarian crisis has unfolded alongside an economic one with the currency collapsing and inflation spiralling out of control. The country's mainstay oil industry is in tatters and regional towns have been razed.

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