, WASHINGTON, Dec 18 – The United States flew 120 people out of South Sudan on Wednesday in three plane loads amid fierce fighting in the capital, US officials said.
Two C-130 planes plus a charter aircraft took off from Juba “carrying non emergency chief of mission personnel, private US citizens, and third country nationals,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
The three groups were all “safely and successfully evacuated,” she added.
“The security situation was getting ugly. There was shooting at the airport,” said a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asked why the evacuations had gone ahead so swiftly.
The two C-130s came from Djibouti and landed in Nairobi about 1300 GMT, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.
Further flights could follow depending on the need, after Washington on Tuesday ordered all its non essential diplomatic staff to leave amid the deteriorating situation, and urged all Americans to depart immediately.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir offered Wednesday to hold talks with his arch rival whom he accuses of leading a coup bid that has sparked days of fierce fighting in the world’s youngest nation.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more terrified civilians have fled their homes to UN bases since fighting erupted on Sunday.
The United States was “deeply troubled” by the outbreak of violence in the country, which it helped found in 2011 when it split from Sudan, Harf said, adding “it is absolutely critical that political differences be resolved by peaceful and democratic means.”
“We call on the country’s political leaders to refrain from any action that could escalate an already tense situation or fuel the violence,” she added.
Americans were still urged to leave the country and the State Department would “work to arrange for additional transportation as necessary to accommodate demand, taking into account security conditions and availability of regular commercial flights. ”
US ambassador to Juba, Susan Page, spoke Wednesday with Kiir “to discuss our concern about the continued violence, increasing death toll, and growing humanitarian challenges,” Harf added.
The government has said 10 key figures, many of them former ministers have been arrested, and Page also raised the issue of the arrests of several opposition members, calling for their rights to be protected.
The fighting, which has now spread outside the capital Juba, has raised fears in the international community of a return to civil war.