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South Sudan ‘at precipice’, Obama warns

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-20

US President Barack Obama warned Thursday that South Sudan “stands at the precipice” amid violence that has killed up to 500 people, including three UN peacekeepers, and mounting fears that the African nation could slide into all-out conflict.

Obama said in a letter to Congress that 45 military personnel were dispatched to South Sudan on Wednesday to protect US citizens and property.

Recalling the promise and hopes that accompanied South Sudan's independence from Sudan in 2011, Obama warned that “today, that future is at risk.”

“South Sudan stands at the precipice,” the president said, promising that the United States would remain Juba's “steady partner.”

Obama’s statement followed news of summary killings along ethnic lines that were spreading across the country.

On Thursday, armed ethnic Nuer youths breached a UN compound in Jonglei state, housing 43 Indian peacekeepers, six United Nations police advisers and about 30 South Sudanese who had sought refuge there, causing an unknown number of casualties.

India's UN envoy Asoke Mukerji said three Indian peacekeepers were “targeted and killed” during the attack.

It was the first announcement of UN personnel killed in this week’s upsurge of violence.

The UN said it would dispatch aircraft early Friday to evacuate UN personnel who remain at the base.

War between top leaders?

“The situation in South Sudan can be best described as tense and fragile. If it is not contained, it could lead to ethnic cleansing,” said Choul Laam, a top official with the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), who spoke in Nairobi, Kenya.

Deadly violence first broke out late Sunday when the presidential guard splintered along ethnic lines, according to Laam.

Guards from the president’s majority Dinka tribe tried to disarm guards from the Nuer ethnic group. The conflict in Juba spiralled from there, and then extended out into the country, Laam said.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir initially said an attempted coup had triggered the violence, and the blame was placed on ousted vice president Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

Machar, who has gone into hiding, disputed Kiir’s allegations that he had attempted a coup, but said he wants Kiir out of power.

“We want him to leave. We want him to leave. That’s it,” Machar told FRANCE 24's sister station Radio France Internationale. “He can’t unite the people and he kills them like flies.”

Machar, an influential politician who is a hero of the brutal war of independence against Sudan, is Kiir’s rival for leadership of the SPLM party.

Tensions had been mounting since Kiir fired Machar as his deputy in July. Machar later said he would contest the presidency in 2015.

The attack on the UN base in Jonglei on Thursday came after troops loyal to Machar seized the town of Bor late Wednesday, army spokesman Philip Aguer said.

Aguer said renegade officers wrested control of the town from loyalist forces. At least 19 civilians have been killed in Bor, said Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general’s office, citing figures from the South Sudan Red Cross.

Foreign ministers from neighbouring countries Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti have travelled to South Sudan to try and defuse the crisis.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Date created : 2013-12-20

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