JUBA (Reuters) - A South Sudanese journalist has been shot dead in what a press freedom group described as a "very foreboding sign" just days after the president issued a warning to the media.
Peter Julius Moi, who worked with the independent New Nation newspaper in Juba, was shot as he headed home after work, his colleagues at the paper said.
Residents of the area where he was shot, in a field southwest of the capital, said Moi was shot with two bullets in the back. They said none of his belongings, including his mobile phone, had been taken.
President Salva Kiir issued a warning to journalists before flying to peace talks in Ethiopia.
"The freedom of press does not mean that you work against your country. And if anybody among them does not know this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day on them," Kiir told a news conference on Sunday, without elaborating.
Government officials and police were not available for comment about Moi's killing despite repeated attempts by Reuters.
The United States called for a thorough investigation of Moi's death and for Kiir to renounce his comments.
"We're very concerned about this development," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby, speaking to reporters in Washington, said of Moi's death. He urged South Sudan authorities "to expeditiously and thoroughly investigate this incident."
"Separate and distinct, we are obviously deeply concerned by President Kiir's comments regarding journalists earlier this week, and we call on him to disavow those words," Kirby added.
Tom Rhodes, the east Africa representative for press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists, said: "A very foreboding sign, the journalist was killed just three days after President Salva Kiir threatened to target journalists before departing for peace talks in Addis Ababa."
"It is still too early to tell whether there is a link, but this tragedy will certainly cast a pall over independent reporting in the country as South Sudanese journalists are increasingly forced to self-censor as a means of survival," he said.
Six other journalists were killed in January when they were ambushed by unknown people in the western Bahr el Ghazal region.
Oliver Modi, chairman of the South Sudan Union of Journalists, said, "It is very serious that, this year, Peter is number seven who was killed in cold blood."
Several newspapers and broadcast stations have also been closed by security personnel without notice or a court warrant.
At the talks in Addis Ababa, Kiir declined to sign a peace agreement proposed by mediators to end the country's 20-month conflict, saying he had some reservations about the pact and asking for an extra two weeks.
Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri in Nairobi and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Alison Williams and Ken Wills