December 21, 2013 (WASHINGTON) – US president Barack Obama has stressed that South Sudan’s leaders have a responsibility to support government efforts to secure American personnel and citizens in Juba and Bor, following an incident on Saturday in which four US military personnel were injured when their aircraft was “shot at” in the rebel-held Jonglei state capital, Bor.
- US president Barack Obama has said South Sudan’s leadership must take measures to protect US citizens and personnel in the country, following an incident in which a US aircraft was shot at in Bor (Photo: Bloomberg)
The aircraft had been attempting to evacuate US citizens in Bor, but the operation was aborted after the incident.
Obama, who is currently in Hawaii, was briefed on the current situation in South Sudan in a telephone call on Saturday with his national security adviser Susan Rice after top aides held a meeting in Washington.
During the call Obama was also briefed on the status of military personnel, and the safety of US citizens and personnel in Bor and the US embassy in Juba.
The president has warned South Sudan that the US and international community would cut support to the country if parties to the conflict took any steps to seize power through military force.
The comments stand in contrast to earlier statements, in which Obama pledged that the United States would remain Juba’s “steady partner”.
Obama has directed his national security team to ensure the safety of US military personnel, and to continue to work with the United Nations to evacuate US citizens from Bor.
“The president was pleased that our service members are in stable condition, and reaffirmed the importance of continuing to work with the United Nations to secure our citizens in Bor”, a statement from the White House said.
“President Obama expressed his deep appreciation for the work of our military and civilians who are operating in difficult circumstances in South Sudan and directed his team to continue to update him going forward”, the statement adds.
The US embassy has so far evacuated 450 American citizens and other foreign nationals from the capital, Juba, but was has so far been unable to begin evacuations from Bor, where the security situation continues to deteriorate after army defectors seized control of the town earlier this week.
Obama has also underscored the urgency of helping to support efforts to resolve the differences within South Sudan through dialogue.
“South Sudan’s leaders must know that continued violence will endanger the people of South Sudan and the hard-earned progress of independence. This conflict can only be resolved peacefully through negotiations”, the White House said.
In an earlier statement on Thursday, Obama warned the new nation risks returning to full-scale war, if the volatile situation was not controlled.
“Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past”, he said, alluding to the more than two-decades-long civil war with Sudan that that left two million people dead before the country gained independence in 2011.
The Obama administration has dispatched the US special envoy to the Sudans, Donald Booth, to Juba in order to hold discussions with officials there on ways to end the conflict.
The US has deployed 45 troops to the country in order to protect US personnel and interests
The UN estimates more than 500 people have since been killed and some 35,000 reportedly displaced since violence erupted in Juba on Sunday, in what is the worst ever conflict in the country’s post-secession era.
South Sudan president Salva Kiir has blamed his former deputy, Riek Machar, and other opponents within the ruling SPLM of instigating the incident, which initially involved rival factions of the presidential guards. Machar has denied the accusations.
Fighting has spread outside the capital, with the SPLA announcing on Wednesday that it had lost Bor after forces loyal to General Peter Gatdet Yak overran military bases the day before.
Heavy fighting broke out also in Unity state capital of Bentiu, although the situation remains amid conflicting accounts of who is in control.
The United Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said that tens of thousands of civilians have sought refuge at their bases in Juba, Bor and Bentiu.