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Unrest in South Sudan felt in the Last Frontier

By Alexis Fernandez 7:34 PM December 17, 2013

"A lot of fighting in the city" is how an Alaskan volunteer describes the turmoil

ANCHORAGE - The United States is asking its citizens in South Sudan to leave the country immediately after heavy gunfire was reported in Juba.

An estimated 13,000 civilians have sought refuge at U.N. compounds in Juba — South Sudan’s capital, according to the U.N.

On Monday, South Sudan President Salva Kiir accused soldiers loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president, of attempting to overthrow the government. Hundreds of people are feared dead.

“I am asking these people, especially the leaders of South Sudan, to have unity at least; to unite this people of South Sudan; to make them one people, one country, one family. That is my message to them, because I don’t see the reason of killing innocent people for no reason,” a displaced person in the area said.

Caught in the middle is a group of volunteers from Alaska like Jason Hahn, the program director with the Alaska Sudan Medical Project.

“It really caused a citywide situation, a lot of fighting in the city — gunfire in the city,” he said via Skype.

Since 2008, the nonprofit organization has been traveling to the village of Old Fangak to help build water wells, and most recently, a clinic. But to get there, they have to go through Juba first, which is closed. A handful of volunteers, including its founder Dr. Jill Seaman, have been trying to get out.

For now, the oncoming team of volunteers is staying put in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Because of the serious situation … the airport being closed, and the fact that we really put a high degree of safety on our volunteers, they’re not going to make it over at this point to South Sudan,” Hahn said.

The oil-rich nation has been plagued by ethnic tension since it became its own country in 2011.

“This is the most serious situation that I’ve seen since I’ve been with ASMP, in the last four years that we’ve been in South Sudan,” Hahn said.

Because the violence is isolated to Juba, Hahn said, its group has not been impacted and is safe.

For now, all they can do is wait.

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