US President Barack Obama warned that South Sudan stands at the “precipice” of renewed civil war, amid spiralling violence including an attack on a UN base that killed three Indian peacekeepers.
The United Nations Security Council readied emergency consultations on the the rapidly fledgling nation Friday, amid growing fears the country was sliding towards greater civil strife.
Obama, who announced he had deployed 45 troops to the violence-wracked country on Wednesday to protect US personnel and interests, called for an immediate end to the violence.
“Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past,” he said, without explicitly mentioning the 22-year civil war that left two million people dead in the former Sudan before the country split in two.
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 Juba’s “steady partner.”
India’s UN envoy Asoke Mukerji said three Indian peacekeepers were “targeted and killed” during Thursday’s attack by ethnic Nuer youths on a base at Akobo in Jonglei state.
Other casualties are feared as the fate of more than 30 ethnic Dinka civilians sheltering at the base is not known, said UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
Forty other UN peacekeepers and six UN police advisors at the camp have been moved to safety.
The attack on the UN base came after troops loyal to fugitive former vice president Riek Machar seized the town of Bor late Wednesday, army spokesman Philip Aguer said, as fighting continued in eastern Jonglei state.
President Salva Kiir has blamed the bloodshed on a coup bid by his perennial rival Machar, who calls that claim a fabrication to cover up a purge by the regime.
Kiir has said he is ready to “sit down,” but Machar, who was sacked by the president in July, rejected the offer and called for the president’s ouster.
About 450 people have been killed in the capital Juba since battles broke out on Sunday, including around 100 soldiers, the army spokesman said.
The battles have raised concerns of ethnic conflict, with Kiir coming from the majority Dinka people and Machar from the Nuer.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has also expressed deep concern over reports of “numerous extrajudicial killings” and “civilians killed in Juba based on their ethnicity.”
Human Rights Watch said witnesses had reported horrific cases of both soldiers and rebels executing people based on their tribe, warning of “revenge attacks.”
However, the government insists the clashes are over power and politics, noting that both sides include leaders from different tribes.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission said it was sheltering civilians in six state capitals, including Juba and Bor, as well as in Bentiu, the main town of the crucial petroleum-producing state of Unity.
At least five oil workers were killed in Unity when attackers broke into their compound late on Wednesday, a company official said.
Oil production accounts for more than 95 percent of South Sudan’s fledgling economy.
Foreigners were being evacuated from the troubled country, with the United States and Britain sending in flights for their citizens, and others fleeing overland south to Uganda.
Long lines of aid workers and expatriates crowded Juba’s airport waiting to board the first flight they could out of the country.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has warned fighting could spread.
The crisis “urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue,” he said.
There were fears that the poor and unstable nation, which broke away from Sudan in 2011, could slide into all-out conflict.
“The scenario many feared but dared not contemplate looks frighteningly possible: South Sudan, the world’s newest state, is now arguably on the cusp of a civil war,” said the International Crisis Group think tank.
Top ministers from four regional countries flew in Thursday to try to launch peace efforts.
Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed told Agence France-Presse she was working with diplomats from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda on the “regional issue.”
All are members of a regional body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, whose members played key roles in pushing forward the 2005 deal that ended Sudan’s two-decade long civil war with the south. AFP