Thousands of Kenyans trapped in the fighting in South Sudan on Tuesday made desperate appeals to the government to be evacuated.
With the international airport in Juba closed and road transport too dangerous because of fighting between supporters of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his one time deputy Riek Machar, escape routes for civilians are limited.
The Kenyan mission in the town has provided refuge to some Kenyans but those still holed up in their homes said they were running out of food and water.
Nearly 70 people, mainly soldiers, were reported killed in the confrontation.
The African Union called for restraint among the combatants and appealed to both sides to avoid anything that would reignite ethnic war in South Sudan.
Foreign Affairs PS Karanja Kibicho said Kenya will push for the establishment of a safe corridor to allow the evacuation of its citizens if the situation continued to deteriorate.
The government was monitoring the situation and if the fighting persists it will ask for a safe corridor to evacuate Kenyans, he said.
“There’s no cause for alarm. We are monitoring as we care about our citizens. If there’s need to evacuate them we shall do so. South Sudan is a friendly nation and we would not want to take action that would show they are not in charge yet they have taken charge of all key installations,” Dr Kibicho said by phone.
He said the South Sudan government had promised to open the airport on Wednesday.
He added that there was another challenge facing Kenyans in South Sudan as the country relies on food imports and that supply might end.
The PS said there were no reported cases of Kenyan casualties as a result of the fighting.
“There might have been those who were affected, but it is difficult to establish. The embassy has not picked anyone,” Dr Kibicho added.
He said 40 Kenyans who lived near the camps where fighting was intense were granted refuge at the Kenyan embassy in Juba.
Dr Kibicho said gunshots in Juba ended on Tuesday morning and that “any other information to the contrary are lies.”
A group of Kenyans and Ugandans trapped at the main bus park said heavy fighting was continuing in the area.
The Nation reached Kenyans by telephone on Tuesday in the morning, before the networks went down, and later on social media, and they reported that they had no food or water.
Many were still in their houses but others had fled to the Kenyan embassy and the United Nations compound. At least 16,000 people from various countries are now said to be camped at the UN premises.
There are more than 30,000 Kenyans in Juba.
The US government ordered an evacuation of all non-essential staff and dependants.
The situation was worsened by the closure of Juba International Airport with no plane landing or taking off. Kenyan airlines Fly540 and Kenya Airways have suspended flights indefinitely.
The main roads from Juba to Kenya and Uganda also remained closed on Tuesday.
A source from Juba last evening told the Nation, fighting had resumed and that there was heavy shelling near State House where former Vice-President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir’s houses are located.
Some Kenyans in the embattled city shared their stories:
Phylis Barasa — hotelier in Juba: “We have not slept since Sunday at around 11pm. There has been gunfire throughout. We live at Tomping Estate near the airport where fighting was intense as the rebels tried to take over the facility.
“All the businesses have been closed down. Police are patrolling everywhere. We live next to a minister in the former government who is said to have been involved in attempts to overthrow the government. We hear loyal government soldiers are coming for him and we don’t know what is going to happen.
“There’s no food or water. Some Kenyans, Ugandans and some Sudanese have moved to nearby UN camp, but they have also been told they would only be given a place to sleep but they have to look for their own food and water.”
Patrick — electrical engineer, speaking around 2pm: “It is calm now. There have been gunshots all over since Sunday at 10pm. Two military camps in Juba, the Bilpam Barracks north of the airport and the Jebel Barracks south of Juba, where the presidential guard is based, were attacked.
“It is difficult to differentiate between the government soldiers and the rebels as their uniforms are the same. People are suffering as there’s no water or food. We are just waiting for the situation to improve. The most affected Kenyans are in an estate near the SPLM/A military headquarters which had been taken over by rebels on Sunday, but the government forces recaptured it yesterday.”
Jane Makeri — graphic designer and freelance journalist: “The people taking refuge in their homes are in danger of starving because shops and small eateries where Kenyans and Ugandans eat are closed. There is less gunfire now in areas around the military barracks and Jebel market.”
Joseph Munyao — pastor: “I had to vacate my home late Sunday night and look for a safer hiding place. I sought refuge at the UN building in Juba. I was amazed at the huge number of Kenyans I found here, over 8,000.Citizens of other countries like Congo, Tanzania and Uganda have also gathered here.”
Dr Hillary Ashikhoya — medical doctor, who lives in Torit, a few kilometres from Juba: “Our community of around 500 people has so far experienced relative calm. However, we are still nervous because we are aware that the situation can blow up in a split second. There is no military or police presence here, but there are numerous army tanks near the capital. Very many of my Kenyan friends have already fled Juba for safer areas.”
Reported by Lucas Barasa, Machel Amos and Beverly Ndege