WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Friday condemned actions by South Sudan’s government to prevent civilians from leaving the country after recent fighting and voiced concern about the beating and detention of some politicians.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the situation in the capital Juba remained “fluid” but the United States still believed it was possible the country’s longtime political adversaries could come together to restore order.
Forces loyal to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar engaged in five days of street battles with anti-aircraft guns, attack helicopters and tanks until a ceasefire was reached on Monday.
The fighting prompted the United Nations and some countries to withdraw non-essential personnel. The United States sent 47 additional troops to protect U.S. citizens and the U.S. Embassy.
“We continue to press the leaders of South Sudan to end the fighting,” Trudeau told reporters. “We call on all parties to allow civilian freedom of movement and provide unfettered humanitarian access to all people in need.”
“Destruction and damage to humanitarian facilities and violence against aid workers is unacceptable and must stop immediately,” she added.
Trudeau said the United States “condemned all actions by the government” to prevent civilians from boarding flights out of South Sudan or leaving the country by other means.
“It is unacceptable given the conditions in Juba to prevent civilians from freely departing the country,” she said.
She also said the United States was concerned about the beating and temporary detention on Thursday of officials in the transitional government belonging to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, or SPLM-IO.
She said the U.S. government had no scheduled charter flights for civilians leaving the country and encouraged U.S. citizens trying to get out of South Sudan to use commercial flights.
Kiir and Machar are longtime rivals, jostling for power even before South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011. A civil war that began in December 2013 came a few months after Kiir dismissed Machar as his deputy. They signed a peace deal in August 2015, but implementation has been slow.
The flare-up last week was apparently sparked when Kiir’s forces stopped and demanded to search vehicles with Machar’s troops.
Trudeau said the U.S. ambassador and emergency personnel remained in South Sudan, “engaging diplomatically with leaders ... and supporting U.S. citizens in the country.” U.S. aid personnel also remained to assess the humanitarian impact of the fighting.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and David Alexander; Editing by Tom Brown