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Locals Worry for Family, Friends Overseas in Wake of South Sudan Violence

Created: 12/18/2013 11:02 PM KAALtv.com
By: Steph Crock

(ABC 6 News) -- South Sudan's Information Minister says there have been at least 500 killed and 700 injured in violence near the capital after what's being called an attempted “coup.”

Violence erupted this Saturday prompting the United States to evacuate non-essential embassy staff and private citizens. A military team remains at the American Embassy in South Sudan. The fighting did not originate between tribes, but between soldiers loyal to the president and those loyal to the former vice president. We spoke with two Rochester residents who have ties to the area.

"It's difficult for us here because we cannot sleep because we try to call there, and there's no one answering," said Aduk Okway.

"I talk to them on the phone, sometimes it's tough to get through,” said Omot Bawar.

Aduk and Omot are trying desperately to reach out to their family and friends who are living in the heart of chaos. "There are 5 I know, and my sister’s son, and my cousin, and my husband’s son are there," said Aduk.

"Yeah, I have friends who live there," said Omot. They both say several of their loved ones originally came to South Sudan to escape war. “I also have some friends who fleed from Ethiopia during 2003 genocide," said Omot. Now, two years since gaining independence, South Sudan remains politically and ethnically divided. “They're scared too because of too many gun shots," said Omot.

The violence appears to pit soldiers loyal the current president against those who are loyal to former vice president. “South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the Ex-Vice President Riek Machar,” said Omot.

That threat continues to spread beyond the capital city, to more streets where innocent civilians live. Roughly 20,000 people have taken shelter in UN Compounds located in Juba. “Innocent people who don't know about the politics," said Omot.

The reality of what’s going on over there, is terrifying for friends and relatives looking from the outside in. “I'm worried. Even my kid is worried. ‘What happened mamma?’  I say, there's some problem in Sudan," said Aduk.

South Sudan says order has been restored but the UN is still concerned. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan have also urged the madness to stop through democratic means.