US warns S Sudan at risk

2014-01-09 22:28
A man holds South Sudanese flags.. (Shannon Jensen, AP)

A man holds South Sudanese flags.. (Shannon Jensen, AP)

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Washington - The United States, which played midwife to South Sudan, is increasingly alarmed the young democracy may collapse, and Thursday sought to calm tensions by declaring it has no evidence of a coup bid.

In just over three weeks of fighting, more than 1 000 people are thought to have been killed and the United Nations has warned that some 240 000 people have fled their homes.

Washington, which helped give birth to the world's newest nation in 2011, has rushed advisors and envoys to Juba to try to help negotiate a ceasefire.

"Today, tragically, the world's youngest country and undoubtedly one of its most fragile democracies is in danger of shattering," US Assistant Secretary for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield told lawmakers, speaking on the third anniversary of the country's overwhelming vote for independence.

The unrest began on 15 December as a clash between army units loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing ex-vice president Riek Machar, who Kiir sacked accusing him of an attempted coup.

The fighting has escalated into war between government troops and a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and army units who have defected to the rebel side, and another US official told US senators there was now fighting in seven of the country's 10 states.

Kiir has denounced the fighting as an attempted coup by his ambitious rival.

But Thomas-Greenfield appeared to give US backing to Machar when she told the Senate Foreign Relations committee that "we have not seen any evidence that this was a coup attempt."

Rather she said the eruption of violence had been "the consequence of a huge political rift" between Kiir and Machar, which had led to an "armed rebellion against the government."

"Each day that the conflict continues, the risk of all-out civil war grows as ethnic tensions rise... and those who have remained on the sidelines are pulled into the conflict," she said.

"Political rivalries have taken on ethnic dimensions, atrocities are being committed, and men, women, and children are caught in the crossfire. This is not the future for which the people of South Sudan voted," she said.

Ceasefire

The United States has been working with an East African forum, IGAD, to try to secure a ceasefire. And while there had been an agreement to lay down arms, Machar's side was still insisting that 11 of his allies be released first by Kiir's government, Thomas-Greenfield said.

"We are working, both in Juba as well as in Addis, as well as here in Washington, to pressure the government to release these detainees."

The United States has called for an immediate end to hostilities, and believes any truce should not be conditioned on the men's release.

She acknowledged too that the crisis would not end with a truce, saying there would be a need for "a very, very organized political dialogue that will lay out the grievances of the various parties."

Former US envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, warned "there cannot be a simple return to the status quo with Machar once again vice president.

"There has been too much blood, and it would not solve anything. The hard task ahead is to develop a new political structure, defining more clearly the democratic rights of all South Sudanese."

The fighting is also triggering fresh humanitarian concerns in a country which is already one of the world's poorest.

Up to 4.4 million South Sudanese, or 40% of the population, were already in need of aid, said top administrator for USaid, Nancy Lindborg.

Stockpiles

"While ample stockpiles of supplies are pre-positioned, security conditions on the ground are preventing international and non-governmental agencies from accessing their own warehouses, disrupting supply chains, and impeding their access to needy populations," Lindborg told the committee.

She also voiced fears about the onset of the rainy season when roads become impassable.

Aid supplies are generally restocked during the dry season at this time of year, when there is a "five-month window of dry weather to replenish and preposition relief supplies," she said.

Read more on:    igad  |  riek machar  |  salva kiir  |  south sudan  |  east africa
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