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S. Sudan police allegedly open fire at Juba school protest

October 31, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan Police dressed in riot gear allegedly fired live bullets at student protesters throwing stones and using knives after a demonstration over land ownership turned violent on Wednesday.

Police captain Barnaba Mamer speaking to media at Juba Day Secondary, October 31, 2012 (ST

No deaths have been reported although authorities says more than 30 have sustained injuries on both sides, as riot police beat several student demonstrators with truncheons during a conflict sparked by a fire which engulfed property including construction materials.

Several demonstrators claim police pinned them to the ground with knees and batons pressed against their necks.

Sudan Tribune was at the scene. It saw four injured police officers and several organisers of the “unauthorized” protest detained. Police say they confiscated knives thrown at them during the skirmishes. 

Two of the protesters told Sudan Tribune say they were protesting against the “sale of part of the school”.

“We sent two letters but they decided to ignore. One of these letters went to the minister of education just last week. We explained everything in the letter we sent to the minister. We talked about lack of learning spaces, the expansion of the school and the need to place for football and volley ball. We also talked about the need to have a space set up as a clinic and more toilets because we have limited toilets now”, Sebit Alfred, a spokesperson of the protesters told Sudan Tribune as he fled school compound on Wednesday. 

Alfred called on fellow students to “take back our schools".

He claimed that the majority of his colleagues injured during the protests were taken to private hospitals because they fear they will be arrested if they are admitted into the public health system.

“Some were shot and others were hurt as they were trying to run because police were shooting at us. They were using live bullets. They shot my class teacher as he was coming from the office and my bench mate”, he said.

Alfred claimed 24 students were injured and 14 arrested. Some were then released because they were found to not have participated in the protest.

An anonymous protestor told Sudan Tribune that they took to the streets “not only to say that we do not accept these tricks, but also to bring to the attention of the public the problems of the school.”

One student protester and a teacher who sustained gunshot injuries have been admitted at Juba teaching hospital. Police authorities say 10 police officers sustained injuries and have been admitted to the police hospital. 

Barnaba Mamer, a police officer who was at the scene, told reporters that they students “have destroyed a lot of property. They have set fire to a container with construction materials and started attacking rescue police forces who wanted to contain the situation.”

He also claimed that the students were using knives and stones, resulting in an, as yet, unknown number of injuries.

Police spokesperson James Sunday, told reporters later in the day that he was not aware of the dispute between school administration and the state ministry of physical infrastructure and said 10 police soldiers were injured while trying to contain the violence from spreading into the town.

He denied the claim that some police officers sustained injuries during the protesters but accepted some of the students were arrested in connection to the protest in which he said a lot of property and buildings have been damaged.

David Lowela Lodu Modi, director general of the Central Equatoria Ministry of Education, attributed the clash to a row in which Juba Day, a secondary school in Juba, Central Equatoria state, which is contesting the ownership of land with the state ministry of physical infrastructure. Modi said the land being contested was a “reserve” following a survey carried by the state ministry of physical infrastructure and the school administration was informed by both the education and physical infrastructure ministries.

“The fight is over an open space south of Juba Day Secondary School. The ministry of physical infrastructure conducted a survey along that area and found out the land was not part of the school so it decided to make it a reserve. The school was informed. The ministry of physical infrastructure to the school headmaster last year,” Modi told Sudan Tribune in his office on Wednesday.