Quiet fell on South Sudan’s capital Juba on Tuesday after a ceasefire declaration appeared to halt, at least temporarily, four days of deadly gun battles in the city.
It was too early to tell whether the ceasefire, called by both President Salva Kiir and his opponent Vice President Riek Machar, would hold but the lull allowed civilians to leave their homes.
There were no helicopter gunships in the sky, no tanks on the streets, no artillery barrages and soldiers in their machine gun-mounted pick-up trucks appeared to have stayed in their barracks.
The calm was welcomed by Juba residents who have stayed mostly indoors for days.
“The situation is quiet near the airport,” said August Mayai, a local resident. “There are people in the streets.”
The fighting began in earnest on Friday evening — killing over 300 soldiers that day alone according to government estimates — then paused on Saturday, the country’s fifth anniversary of independence, before resuming with intense fighting on Sunday.
There has been no estimate of casualties from the recent days’ fighting.
The violence has raised fears of a return to civil war that began in December 2013 and has been characterised by ethnic massacres, rape, murder and the use of child soldiers.
An August 2015 peace deal was supposed to end the conflict but has so far failed to do so, despite the return of rebel leader Machar in April to join a government of national unity alongside his enemy Kiir.
On Monday evening Kiir and then Machar both ordered ceasefires after a chorus of condemnation from the United Nations, regional bloc IGAD, the United States and others.
Despite the pause in fighting Juba remains on tenterhooks.
“We are on the lookout because anything can happen,” said one resident who did not want to be named. “We’ve had the same situation before: we thought it was going to be fine, and it wasn’t.”
Flights in and out of Juba’s international airport were still suspended on Tuesday morning and foreign governments’ advisories that their citizens stay indoors remained in place.
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