South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (Photo by AFP)
South Sudan's government has denied rumors about the death of President Salva Kiir.
The government’s announcement of the 65-year-old Kiir's good health on Wednesday followed days of hearsay over his failing health, which caused worries and raised tensions in the capital Juba.
"This is a mere lie, there is nothing as such, Salva Kiir has not even been sick," Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said to journalists in Juba on Wednesday.
The minister slammed the “wild rumors” in the form of messages posted on Twitter, going as far as Uganda, where Kiir was reported to have gone to for medical treatment. Lueth said such a campaign was aimed at driving a wedge among the people of South Sudan.
On Wednesday, residents of Juba reported a higher than usual presence of soldiers on the streets as rumors of Kiir's illness coincided with mounting concerns over an uptick in violence.
"We are scared of the situation. You cannot know what is exactly happening but (there are) rumors that the president has died. Well, it is said fighting may break out and this is why I am scared," said Moses Modi, a resident of Juba who was staying home over security fears.
​Another Juba resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that some schools had sent pupils back home, adding, “There are soldiers deployed along the road. Mainly the roads around the ministries and the State House ... I am at work but leaving (for) home now, because the tension is high.”
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan, also known as UNMISS, on Wednesday said it was "extremely concerned over increased reports of violence and armed conflict in various parts of the country in the last few weeks."
South Sudan descended into chaos when Kiir in December 2013 accused the former vice president, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup.
Numerous internationally-mediated attempts to shore up a fragile truce in South Sudan have failed. In a major setback to the peace efforts, fierce clashes erupted in Juba on July 8 between Kiir's guards and troops loyal to Machar.
The international community has expressed deep concern about South Sudan relapsing into more violence.
The July clashes have pushed the number of refugees in the conflict-stricken country past the one-million mark, according to the United Nations.
In a further blow to the peace prospects, Machar last month called for "a popular armed resistance" against Kiir. Machar, himself, is said to be in South Africa for medical tests.