WASHINGTON: South Sudan’s young democracy risks “shattering” amid fierce fighting that left over 1,000 dead, a U.S. official warned Thursday, adding Washington had no evidence of an attempted coup.
Speaking on the third anniversary of the nation’s independence, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield told lawmakers: “Today, tragically, the world’s youngest country and undoubtedly one of its most fragile democracies is in danger of shattering.”
The unrest in the world’s newest nation began on Dec. 15 as a clash between army units loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to ex-Vice President Riek Machar.
It 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, as another U.S. official told U.S. 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 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.”
“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.
Acknowledging that access across the country was difficult for aid agencies, she said that the “scale of the atrocities” was not yet known.
The fighting was also creating new humanitarian needs in a country that is already one of the world’s poorest.
Up to 4.4 million South Sudanese, or 40 percent of the population, were already in need of aid, said top administrator for USAID, Nancy Lindborg.
And the fighting and “regularly changing lines of control make it difficult to reach both key areas affected by the recent violence and areas of long-standing need.”