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South Sudan President Salva Kiira. AFP

The government of South Sudan was on Wednesday forced to deny President Salva Kiir had died. This is as a result of days of rumours over Kiir’s health that have heightened tensions in the capital Juba.

“This is a mere lie. There is nothing as such. Salva Kiir has not even been sick,” Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told journalists in Juba. He tagged the rumours as “wild rumours” aimed at dividing the people of South Sudan.

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Rumours have been doing the rounds on Twitter. It has even spread as far as Uganda where Kiir, 65, was reported to have fled for medical treatment.

Residents of Juba reported a higher than usual presence of soldiers on the streets, as the rumours coincided with mounting concerns over an uptick in violence in the troubled nation in recent weeks.

“We are scared of the situation. You cannot know what is exactly happening but (there are) rumours that the president has died. I’m scared because I heard that there may be some fighting,” said Moses Modi, a resident of Juba who was staying home over security fears.

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South Sudan’s former rebel leader and new vice-president Riek Machar listens as the president (not pictured) delivers a statement during a ceremony at the Presidential House in Juba on April 26, 2016. Source: AFP

Another Juba resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that some schools had sent pupils back home. She told AFP that, “There are soldiers along the road. Mainly the roads around the ministries and the State House … I am at work but leaving (for) home now. There is tension in the air.”

Kiira, Machar face-off divides South Sudan

South Sudan, which gained independence in July 2011, descended into war just two and a half years later when Kiir in December 2013 accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

Numerous attempts to shore up a fragile truce failed, and in a major setback to peace efforts, fierce clashes erupted in Juba on July 8 this year between Kiir’s guards and troops loyal to Machar.

The international community has expressed deep concerns over a spread in violence since the July clashes. As a result, the number of refugees from the war-scarred nation has grown over the one-million mark, according to the UNHCR.

In a further blow to peace hopes, Machar last month urged “a popular armed resistance” against his rival’s government.

Machar, who fled to Khartoum in the July fighting, on Wednesday left for South Africa for medical tests.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Wednesday expresses concerns over increased reports of violence and armed conflict in various parts of the country in the last few weeks.

In Leer, UNMISS forces reported heavy artillery and gunfire exchanges between forces loyal to Kiir and Machar. This consequently led to an unspecified number of deaths and sent local populations fleeing.

UNMISS said it is difficult to access an area where the killing of 21 civilians reportedly took place in an ambush on the road between Juba and the southern city of Yei over the weekend.

AFP