A FINAL UK plane has evacuated Britons from South Sudan amid concerns that mounting violence could quickly escalate into a full-scale civil war.
Foreign Office officials warned it could be difficult to help any UK nationals who chose to stay if the security situation in the world’s youngest state deteriorates further.
Those fleeing the fighting were told to gather by midday yesterday at the airport in the capital Juma, which was reported to be mostly peaceful.
But as the fighting spread to other parts of the newly formed East African country, its government lost control of the main city of a key oil-producing region.
A military spokesman said Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, had fallen to rebel forces.
All but around 1 per cent of government revenues come from oil production.
The United Nations estimated that up to 500 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions following a coup attempt by soldiers loyal to the president’s former deputy.
After two evacuations using military aircraft, a third jet was chartered by the UK government for the final attempt to bring people back to Britain.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on the South Sudanese government to work for peace and said he remained “very concerned” about the situation.
“It is vital that all leaders urge restraint on their supporters and commit to a political resolution of their differences,” he said after talks with his counterpart.
“South Sudan has a legitimate, democratically elected government. Resorting to military means to further political rivalries is a betrayal of the hopes on which the new state of South Sudan was founded.”
In a joint statement, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Vatican called for the nation’s weak and poor to be “spared the trauma of conflict”.
A British charity worker has revealed how he tried for five days to flee the heavy fighting in South Sudan and get himself home to Britain for Christmas.
Vicar’s son Ben Bartlett, 23, attempted on four occasions to leave Juba with colleagues from Tearfund, a Christian relief and development charity.
Mr Bartlett had been in South Sudan since October working on clean water and sanitation schemes. He arrived at Newcastle Airport on Saturday and will spend Christmas with his family.
Last Sunday, he woke to the sound of heavy weapons being fired close to Tearfund’s compound in Juba.
“I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was woken by the sound of heavy gunfire and shelling, and buildings were shaking from the vibrations of tank and mortar fire,” he said.
The next day he spoke via Skype to his parents Helen and Alan, who is a vicar in Durham.
His father said: “The first we knew of this was talking with him with the sound of machine gun fire in the background. Very scary for him and for us.”
Mr Bartlett and his colleagues spent a day lying low in their compound, eating emergency rations of luncheon meat and tinned pineapple, before starting to try to get out on Wednesday. The airport opened and then closed again and flights were frequently cancelled.
On Thursday, just 30 minutes before he was due to leave, an incoming plane crashed on the runway and further flights were cancelled.
Mr Bartlett, who has already worked in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is used to dangerous places but he said: “This is the scariest experience I have had yet.”
His father said: “It has been very tough going carol singing, celebrating Christmas with our schools, all the while worrying about his safety and that of many friends in South Sudan.
“We hope and pray that peace will soon be restored.”