NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Armed men shot and killed a South Sudanese radio journalist during clashes in the country’s capital, Juba, a media organization said Wednesday, and those who knew him said he was targeted because of his ethnicity.
Jennifer Cobb, a spokeswoman for Internews, confirmed that John Gatluak was killed Monday at the compound of the upscale Terrain Hotel, where he had been taken for his safety after he was briefly arrested Friday night.
Internews is a U.S.-funded organization that assists radio stations in South Sudan.
The Rev. John Chuol, a representative of Gatluak’s family, said the 32-year-old journalist was targeted because he is a member of the Nuer tribe, the same ethnicity as opposition leader Riek Machar. Many supporters of President Salva Kiir are from the rival Dinka tribe.
The U.N.’s special representative for the prevention of genocide has warned that soldiers were targeting civilians by ethnicity during the clashes that began last Thursday. While a precarious calm has descended on Juba since both Kiir and Machar called for a cease-fire late Monday, fears persist that forces on both sides continue to target people by ethnic group.
A massacre of ethnic Nuer in Juba sparked South Sudan’s civil war, which began in December 2013 and raged between supporters of Kiir and Machar, killing tens of thousands before a fragile peace deal was struck last August.
An official with South Sudan’s National Editor’s Forum, or NEF, a journalist network, said a photo he saw of Gatluak’s body showed he was shot in the face and lying on his back, his arms outstretched.
“He’s lying down, his two arms spread out,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety. “When I look at the photo, it looks like he raised his hands up as someone who is surrendering.”
A photo of Gatluak posted on the Internews website shows that he had distinctive Nuer facial scars on his forehead, making his ethnicity easily identifiable.
Some of the heaviest clashes in the past week in Juba took place near the Terrain Hotel as government troops attempted to oust the armed opposition from one of their bases.
By Monday afternoon, the opposition was in retreat. The NEF official said government soldiers stormed the Terrain Hotel as they were returning to the center of town.
There was no other person of Nuer ethnicity in the hotel compound, and no one else was killed, though one hotel employee was shot in the leg, the official said.
The weeklong fighting has left hundreds dead in the capital, and aid workers have said bodies remained in the streets. On Wednesday, U.N. officials said the death toll was certain to climb above the 272 people, including 33 civilians, reported by the government.
“I would believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg given alarming reports indicating over the last few days many civilians were barred from reaching safer ground,” peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the U.N. Security Council.
The U.S. Embassy said it was arranging flights out of the country for Americans on Thursday. Italy’s foreign ministry said air force aircraft landed Wednesday in Juba to evacuate 30 Italians. Germany’s foreign ministry said its air force was evacuating German, European and other foreign citizens.
South Sudanese trying to flee the country by road reported attacks, killings and robberies by armed men.
An Associated Press reporter spoke to people who had been wounded in attacks by armed men as they tried to reach neighboring Uganda. Many cars had been shot at or burned. Government forces had erected roadblocks to demand money from those who were fleeing. Some people were sent back to Juba.
The U.N. refugee agency has expressed concern about the South Sudan-Uganda crossing, “where security is tightened on the South Sudan side,” and it called on all armed parties to allow safe passage.
The U.N. has said 42,000 South Sudanese civilians have fled their homes due to the fighting.
In Juba, others took shelter in churches, U.N. bases and aid workers’ compounds, but there were reports of government soldiers blocking aid workers from moving to areas where civilians need assistance.
“There is hardly any food in the market, and people are starving. As a result, they are turning to coping mechanisms like looting to survive,” said Jeremiah Young, policy adviser for World Vision.
Meanwhile, fighting continued to spread to other parts of South Sudan. Shantal Persaud, the spokeswoman for the U.N. mission there, said it had received a report of small-arms fire in Leer town in Unity state Wednesday morning. The town is Machar’s birthplace.
Associated Press writers Charlton Doki in Kampala, Uganda, and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the employer says armed men, not South Sudan soldiers, killed journalist. Corrects that journalist worked for Internews, not Eye Radio.