Juba — South Sudan armed forces have heavily deployed in the capital Juba, in a bid to control the tense situation.
On Sunday evening, forces from the former Joint Integrated Units (JIU) came under heavy gun exchange after unexpected changes were made within the presidential guards, a military source said.
"The fighting was sparked off after forces predominantly from one ethnic group were deployed under the directive of Maj. Gen Marial Cinduong Yol, the commander of the presidential guard force".
The military source, however, claimed the firing started when the ammunition store manager refused to hand over store keys as demanded by the presidential guard commander.
"You know our situation. We are living in a tribal country. This firing had been extended to Bilpam because each group has comrades there. Guns shots remains heard at the moment", the senior official told Sudan Tribune in an exclusive interview on Monday.
It however remains unclear how many died. Eyewitnesses, however, claimed about 21people, including a former commander of the JIUs, were among those killed.
A Sudan Tribune reporter in Juba said heavy gunfire continued in the capital, despite heavy deployment of tanks in the city.
Initially, the firing was confined to the military barracks, but later extended to areas occupied by the civilians, such as Malakia, Hai Nimra Talata, Hai Nyakuron, Neem, Hai Nyakuron, Custom, University and Bilpam, which is the headquarters of the army.
Unconfirmed reports say the fight broke out after president Salva Kiir allegedly ordered the army's chief of staff, James Hoth Mai to arrest dissident politicians, including Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of the country's ruling party founder, later John Garang.
"This situation could have been contained since yesterday but the differences within the security and the army could not allow the taking of immediate action", a senior government official said Monday.
The official, who asked not to be named, could not comment on whether Kiir indeed ordered Maj. Gen. Yol to introduce the changes.
Phillip Aguer, the spokesperson of South Sudan army (SPLA) regretted the event, but stressed that goverment was in full control of the situation.
"This situation is under controlled. People should not panic. The general command is acting and this situation will fully be brought under control any moment from now", Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Monday, but gave no further details.