Sectarian violence in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, would raise the question of genocide if it continues, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Four months of fighting between government forces and rebels has involved “ethnic tribal targeted nationalistic killings,” which has left thousands of people dead and displaced more than a million, Kerry told reporters today in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
Violence has roiled South Sudan since December when President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of the Nuer group and other leaders of staging a coup, a charge they deny.
“Were they to continue in the way that they’ve been going they could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide,” he said. “It is our hope that can be avoided.”
Kerry met with foreign ministers from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia today and discussed South Sudan’s crisis, including how to rapidly deploy a regional peacekeeping force. All three East African nations “accepted responsibility for doing sanctions” against South Sudanese leaders, he said.
“Each agreed that it is in fact important that regional players engage in that in unison together, and I believe that they will be considering that over the course of the next days also,” Kerry said.
President Barack Obama has prepared an executive order that would allow for sanctions against individuals in South Sudan whose U.S. assets could be frozen and whose travel there would be barred. A U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record, said a list of individual names was being discussed and could include Kiir and Machar.
Kerry drew a “distinction” between Kiir, the elected president, and Machar, who is trying to take power unconstitutionally.
“There’s no equivalency between the two as far as we are concerned,” he said.
Both men should condemn the killings and set aside their personal animosities to stem the violence and ensure humanitarian assistance can reach people in need, said Kerry.
Ethiopia was the first stop in Kerry’s five-day African tour that will also take him to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.