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British official: South Sudan violence is genocide

April 13, 2017

The UK secretary of state for international development has said that the violence in South Sudan amounted to genocide along tribal lines. Priti Patel's comments came after she visited the country earlier in April.

Südsudan Schutzzone Malakal
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A.-G. Farran

UK International Development Minister Priti Patel said Thursday that massacres were taking place across South Sudan as part of what she referred to as a "scorched earth policy."

Patel described the situation in South Sudan as "absolutely abhorrent and inhumane," highlighting that villages were being burned down, women were being raped and "people's throats (are) being slit."

Read: South Sudan soldiers arrested for rape

"It's tribal, it's absolutely tribal, so on that basis it's genocide," Patel told reporters in Uganda.

UK Priti Patel
International Development Minister Priti Patel made the scathing comments after a visit to South Sudan earlier in April Image: picture alliance/empics/Y. Mok

The minister also urged foreign leaders to do more to force the country's government to end the conflict in which tens of thousands of people have been killed. South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan in 2011, has been in a state of civil war since December 2013 following a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

Last month, the UN released a report saying that South Sudan was teetering on the edge of genocide and undergoing broad ethnic cleansing, being largely carried out government forces. The report emphasized that the country also faces a serious hunger crisis, with famine having been declared in two counties.

Reaction from South Sudan government

South Sudan's Information Minister Michael Makuei slammed Priti Patel's comments as "unfortunate and misleading".

"That is a very unfortunate statement given by an irresponsible person. There is no genocide. These are all things that are orchestrated by people who are made to make these reports," he said.

The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, had warned, however, of "a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide."

A growing conflict

Civil war broke out just two years after South Sudan had gained independence. President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his political rival, former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of leading an attempted military coup in the capital Juba that later escalated into a full-blown rebellion.

The Dinka and Nuer are the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan with a long history of rivalry between them. But the conflict has also drawn in the country's myriad smaller groups, either taking sides with the government or with the rebels.

More than 1.5 million people have fled the East African nation as the crisis ensued, creating Africa's largest migrant crisis.

ss/rt (AP, AFP)