Obama: South Sudan violence must end

Washington has deployed 45 troops to the African country to protect U.S. interests

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President Barack Obama called Thursday for an immediate end to the fighting in South Sudan, warning the country stands at the “precipice” of civil war.

Obama, who earlier announced he had deployed 45 troops to the violence-wracked country on Wednesday to protect U.S. personnel and interests, warned that “recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past.”

He made his remarks in a strongly-worded statement, his most pointed remarks to date on the bloodshed in the nascent African nation.

The growing violence has prompted fears that the world’s youngest nation could slide toward civil war.

“Fighting to settle political scores or to destabilize the government must stop immediately. Inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence must cease,” the president added in his statement.

“All sides must listen to the wise counsel of their neighbors, commit to dialogue and take immediate steps to urge calm and support reconciliation.

“South Sudan’s leaders must recognize that compromise with one’s political enemy is difficult; but recovering from unchecked violence and unleashed hatred will prove much harder.”

Recalling the promise and hopes that accompanied South Sudan’s entrance into the community of nations just two years ago and Juba’s progress in mitigating violence, 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 a “steady partner” of the fledgling nation.

“South Sudan has a choice,” he continued. “Its leaders can end the violence and work to resolve tensions peacefully and democratically.”

The U.S. leader said “too much blood has been spilled and too many lives have been lost to allow South Sudan’s moment of hope and opportunity to slip from its grasp.”

He urged South Sudan’s rulers “to show courage and leadership, to reaffirm their commitment to peace, to unity and to a better future for their people.”

In addition to American troops, Ugandan soldiers have been deployed in Juba following a request by the country’s government to help secure the city, Uganda’s government-owned New Vision newspaper reported Friday.

The paper said the first batch of Special Forces soldiers had helped to secure the airport and assisted in the evacuation of Ugandan nationals from Juba, the scene of a week of fierce clashes between rival South Sudanese army units.

Meanwhile, South Sudan’s government said on Friday it was ready for dialogue with rivals to prevent a return to war as African ministers sought to broker peace in the two-year-old nation.

“President [Salva] Kiir has always said that he doesn’t want his people to turn back again to war,” Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told Reuters.

“That is why the government has been negotiating with a lot of militia groups.”

Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, has accused his former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer who was sacked in July, of attempting to seize power by force.

Britain was sending a second flight on Friday to evacuate its nationals from South Sudan, the Foreign Office said. On Thursday, a Royal Air Force C-17 military transport plane successfully evacuated 182 people, including 53 British nationals, out of the country to Uganda, officials said.

Britain and the United States have both pulled some of their embassy staff out of the country and have urged their nationals to leave.

China National Petroleum Company, a main oil investor in South Sudan, is also evacuating oil workers to Juba, a company official and state media said on Friday.

State news agency Xinhua said CNPC planned to fly out 32 workers.

On Tuesday, the United States ordered all non-emergency embassy staff to leave South Sudan and stressed that the onus to end the violence was on the country’s leaders. A German plane was also scheduled to fly out.

In an example of the danger facing foreign troops in the volatile country, three Indian peacekeepers were killed Thursday in an attack by ethnic Nuer youths on a United Nations base in Jonglei state. Other casualties are feared.

The U.N. said 34,000 people in South Sudan are seeking refuge at U.N. bases in three locations across the country.

The U.N.’s humanitarian arm said Friday that 20,000 people are seeking shelter in Juba, while 14,000 are seeking shelter in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, the scene of heavy violence this week. Several hundred people are seeking shelter in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, where South Sudan’s oil fields are concentrated.

Violence broke out among South Sudan’s presidential guard late Sunday night. Fighting spread across the country over the next several days, leading to fears of a civil war between ethnic groups.

(With AFP, AP and Reuters)

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