Chinese firms evacuate 330 staff in South Sudan as deadly fighting escalates

  Thursday, 14 July, 2016,

Chinese companies have evacuated more than 330 staff working in South Sudan after an escalation in the conflict in the northeastern African nation, which has killed many people, including two mainland peacekeepers, state media says.

On Wednesday a group of 71 Chinese engineers boarded a chartered flight from Juba, the war-hit capital city of South Sudan, and landed in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, Xinhua reported.

The workers, most of whom are employed by China Communications Construction, were helping to build an extension to the airport in Juba before the fierce fighting erupted last week.

China Overseas Engineering Group said on Wednesday that it had evacuated about 260 Chinese employees, mostly from state-owned Chinese companies involved in infrastructure projects in South Sudan, Xinhua said.

As commercial flights in the country have not yet resumed, these Chinese staff took chartered flights to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Wednesday, where they joined another 70 Chinese nationals who had been evacuated to the city the day before.

However, some Chinese employees were staying on Juba, Xinhua said.

Zhang Lizhong, a deputy manager at China Harbour Engineering, said that the company had started emergency measures and all staff had been required to move into reinforced accommodation because of safety concerns.

He said no one had been injured, but “from time to time shrapnel shells and bullets fell into the camps during fierce battles”, Xinhua quoted Zhang as saying.

The Chinese embassy in South Sudan issued a travel notice this week warning citizens not to travel to the country, and that if they insisted on such a visit they “could face extremely high risks and not be able to receive timely assistance”. The embassy’s warning remains in force until July 31.

Fighting broke out again in South Sudan last week between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his rival, Vice-president Riek Machar.

The latest escalation in the fighting has killed almost 300 people, including the two Chinese peacekeepers on Sunday, when armed militants tried to break into a UN compound.

The two Chinese soldiers, Li Lei and Yang Shupeng, were killed in an explosion after their armoured vehicle was hit by a shell while they guarding key areas of the compound, China’s defence military said. Five other Chinese peacekeepers were injured, including two with serious injuries.

Despite of years of unrest, South Sudan, one of the Africa’s biggest oil producers, has attracted huge amounts of investment from Chinese companies, who have been widely involved in infrastructure and oil exploration projects.

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