By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
IIP Staff Writer
10 January 2014
Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a U.S. Senate committee that the United States and the international community will not countenance the armed overthrow of the democratically elected government of South Sudan and have called for an immediate end to hostilities.
Thomas-Greenfield said senior U.S. officials also have called for international cooperation to end civil strife that has engulfed South Sudan since a rupture occurred in the government December 15, 2013, that has led to broader violence.
“Each day that the conflict continues, the risk of all-out civil war grows,” said Thomas-Greenfield, the State Department’s assistant secretary for African affairs.
“While we do not know the scale of atrocities that have been committed thus far, there is clear evidence that targeted killings have taken place, with Dinka killing Nuer, and Nuer killing Dinka,” Thomas-Greenfield added. “Countless civilians, particularly women and children, have become victims of violence perpetrated by both government and rebel forces alike.”
Thomas-Greenfield told the senators that moving Africa’s newest nation forward is of the highest priority to the United States and the international community. The crisis began with a political dispute on December 15, 2013, between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, whom Kiir accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Since then, violence has spread across the country.
The democratic government must be protected, Thomas-Greenfield told the senators, and, in addition, the hostilities must end, all violence directed at civilians must end, humanitarian access must be provided, and the release of political prisoners in Juba, the nation’s capital, is essential. She also said that those responsible for committing human rights abuses must be held accountable by the international community.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee called a hearing January 9 to review the current situation in South Sudan, and Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said the hearing was also intended to send a strong message to the government and rebel leaders.
“The reason for this being the first hearing of this committee of the New Year is the hope that our attention can send a message to all parties in the [South] Sudan that a cease-fire, a continuing cease-fire, a political solution and reconciliation is critical for U.S. long-term assistance,” Menendez said. “And in doing so, hopefully, we can save lives.”
The people of South Sudan voted January 9–15, 2011, in overwhelming numbers for independence from the Republic of Sudan following years of civil strife and violence. South Sudan, with a population of more than 11 million people, is a landlocked country in an area known as Middle Africa, which is in the region of East Africa.
The United States has worked to organize peace talks between representatives from the government and rebel forces in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which neighbors South Sudan’s northern border. Additionally, the United States has gotten the U.N. Security Council to authorize an additional 5,500 peacekeeping troops.
Thomas-Greenfield said that the United States is working closely with South Sudan’s neighbors, through East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is leading mediation efforts. A special summit was held just 12 days after the violence began, and leaders assembled in Addis Ababa for negotiations just a few days later, she added.
South Sudan’s neighbors are also providing asylum for new South Sudanese refugees, who may number in the hundreds of thousands if the fighting does not end soon, Thomas-Greenfield said. It has been estimated that 1,000 civilians have been killed and more than 180,000 people have been displaced.
“These negotiations offer the best hope for South Sudan and the region,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “An agreement to end hostilities will provide much-needed time and space for dialogue to begin on the core political and governance issues that are at the root of this crisis.”
“Both sides must recognize that there can be no military solution,” she added.
President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, said January 9 in a White House statement that a negotiated settlement through the mediation process begun by IGAD mediators, Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin and General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, is strongly supported by the United States.
“The United States calls upon rebel-leader Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir to sign immediately the cessation of hostilities agreement tabled by IGAD,” Rice said.