Aid to South Sudan could be partly suspended if ongoing violence is not stopped, U.S. officials said Thursday as they pressed the new African nation’s government to allow for greater political inclusion.
The security situation in the relatively young country has deteriorated over the past few weeks. South Sudan President Salva Kiir said in mid-December that militants loyal to Riek Machar, a former member of Kiir’s government who was dismissed in July, tried to stage a coup.
“We have not seen any evidence of a coup attempt, but it certainly was the result of a huge political rift,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the assistant secretary of State for african affairs.
The two sides are engaged in a back-and-forth on reaching a ceasefire agreement, but Thomas-Greenfield noted that U.S. officials are not currently confident that the talks will be successful. Nancy Lindborg, the assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said 240,000 people have fled their homes since the fighting — which has spread to seven of South Sudan’s 10 states — started.
“I would suspect that at a point if this violence continues that we would suspend that support,” Thomas-Greenfield said, referring to aid for the South Sudanese government. The United States also provides humanitarian aid.
Machar is demanding that the South Sudanese government release 11 political prisoners. Kiir suggested around Christmas he would release most of them, but he has yet to do so. U.S. officials are backing the push to release the political prisoners — who Machar wants included in the current negotiations.
“They will bring some political views that are much more moderate,” Thomas-Greenfield said. But she noted that U.S. officials have also “made clear to the rebels that we will not recognize a violent overthrow of a democratically elected government.”
The State Department officials’ comments came before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday, which marks the three-year anniversary of the start of the vote for South Sudan’s independence. The vote — which took place from Jan. 9, 2011 to Jan. 15, 2011 — gained broad support from senators in both parties at the time.
Thomas-Greenfield will head to across the Capitol Wednesday to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.