ENTEBBE, Uganda (AP) — South Sudan’s violent conflict is now genocide that is being perpetrated along tribal lines, a senior British official said, urging 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.
Priti Patel, the U.K. secretary of state for international development, said in an interview late Wednesday that there are “massacres taking place, people’s throats being slit” amid what she called a “scorched earth policy” in the world’s youngest country.
She described the situation in South Sudan as “absolutely abhorrent and inhumane.” The country also faces a hunger crisis, with famine declared in two counties.
This week Patel visited South Sudan, where she met South Sudan President Salva Kiir, whose government is accused of blocking food aid to some areas.
Villages are being burned down, women are being raped, and food is being used as a weapon of war, Patel told The Associated Press in neighboring Uganda, where she also visited some of the refugee settlements in which over 800,000 South Sudanese are sheltering. Thousands of refugees continue to flee across the border amid increasing reports of targeted ethnic killings perpetrated by mostly government forces.
“It’s tribal, it’s absolutely tribal, so on that basis it’s genocide,” she said. “Other leaders in the region cannot sit on their hands here. They themselves have to call on President Kiir to do more. If there’s a national dialogue plan, regional leaders in my view should be taking the lead on that, in terms of how they influence President Kiir but also how they support the national dialogue as well to bring peace and reconciliation to that country.”
A United Nations report released last month said South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing by mostly government forces and their allies. That report described the country as teetering on the edge of genocide.
South Sudan fell into civil war in December 2013, just two years after it won its independence from Sudan. When war broke out, 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.
More than 1.5 million people have fled the East African nation, creating Africa’s largest migrant crisis.
The United States and others have been urging accountability. Last month the U.N. commission of inquiry for South Sudan was given broader powers to pursue human rights abuses like mass rape and torture, with the new ability to collect and preserve evidence and point the finger at suspected perpetrators.
This story has been corrected to indicate that the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda exceeds 800,000.