South Sudan evacuation aircraft fired on, US troops hurt

image captionThere's been a big international operation to evacuate people from South Sudan

Four US service personnel on an evacuation mission have been wounded after their aircraft were shot at in South Sudan, the US military says.

The three CV-22 Ospreys were attacked as they approached Bor, which is occupied by forces loyal to the former Vice-President Riek Machar, it added.

South Sudan has been in turmoil since President Salva Kiir accused Mr Machar a week ago of attempting a coup.

Mr Machar told the BBC the rebels were under his control.

He was in control of large parts of the country, he said, and troops loyal to him had also seized control of Unity, a state on the border with Sudan which produces much of the country's oil.

He added that he was prepared to negotiate with the government if politicians arrested earlier this week were released.

At least 500 people have been killed since the fighting began.

Ugandan involvement

The US military said the Ospreys, aircraft which can fly both like helicopters and like planes, were involved in the evacuation of US citizens from Bor.

A statement said all three aircraft were damaged by small arms fire by unknown forces as they approached the town.

The aircraft returned to Uganda's Entebbe airport, from where the wounded service personnel were transferred onto a US Air Force C-17 transport aircraft and taken on to Nairobi, Kenya, it added.

All four were treated and are in a stable condition, the statement said.

image captionGovernment troops are patrolling the capital, Juba

The BBC's former Sudan correspondent James Copnall, who spoke to Mr Machar, says his forces were likely to have fired on the aircraft thinking they were Ugandan.

Uganda is one of a number of other countries trying to evacuate their citizens from South Sudan.

It has sent troops to take part in the operation. They will also try to secure the capital Juba, just 75km (50 miles) from the border, reports say.

However, Uganda has denied reports that it has been helping the South Sudanese army by bombing Mr Machar's forces in eastern Jonglei state, of which Bor is the capital.

Commander 'defects'

The army is trying to retake Bor. Jonglei is one of the most volatile regions in the country.

Troops backed by helicopter gunships were advancing on the town, army spokesman Philip Aguer told the French AFP news agency.

A spokesman for UN peacekeepers Unmiss in Bor said considerable numbers of people had arrived over the past 24 hours from surrounding areas seeking their protection.

In Unity state, a major oil-producing region, a senior commander, General James Koang, was reported to have defected to Mr Machar's forces.

Mr Machar said General Koang was now in control of the state, but the military, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), says he defected alone and did not take any forces with him.

A resident in Unity state told the BBC that Gen Koang announced on local radio he had joined Mr Machar's rebellion.

On Friday African mediators held talks with Mr Kiir in an attempt to avert civil war.

The talks are set to continue and US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was sending a special envoy, Ambassador Donald Booth, to help foster dialogue.

President Kiir, a member of the majority Dinka ethnic group, sacked Mr Machar, who is from the Nuer community, in July.

He said that last Sunday night uniformed personnel opened fire at a meeting of the governing party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Violence then broke out in Juba and has since spread across the country, pitting gangs of Nuer and Dinka against each other.

The whereabouts of Mr Machar, who has denied trying to stage a coup, remain unknown.

Worst violence

Thousands of civilians have flocked to UN compounds seeking shelter from the unrest.

The UN on Friday condemned an attack on its compound in Akobo, Jonglei state, a day earlier in which two Indian peacekeepers and at least 11 civilians were killed.

Jonglei state has seen some of the worst violence since South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011, with hundreds killed in periodic clashes between rival heavily-armed ethnic militias sparked by cattle-rustling.

Following decades of conflict, weapons are widely available across much of South Sudan.

South Sudan's government insists the clashes are over power and politics, not between ethnic groups.

President Kiir said the majority of those arrested after Sunday's alleged coup attempt were Dinka, not Nuer.

The oil-rich country has struggled to achieve a stable government since becoming independent.

image captionBoth Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
image captionThe two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
image captionSudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
image captionIn the Sudanese states of Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In South Sudan, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of South Sudanese have no toilet facilities.
image captionThroughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.
image captionConflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan depend on food aid. The UN says about 2.8m people in South Sudan required food aid in 2013.