Washington — The United States president Barack Obama issued a statement on Thursday night warning against a grim scenario that could unfold in South Sudan as a result of the ongoing fighting in several states of the world's newest country.
What began as clashes between different units of South Sudan's presidential guard in Juba last Sunday, spread to other key places including the states of Jonglei and Unity.
South Sudan president Salva Kiir appeared on Monday to accuse his former deputy Riek Machar and other leading ex-officials of staging a failed coup attempt.
The government arrested ten former ministers and issued an arrest warrant for Machar, former ruling party Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) Secretary General Pagan Amum and ex-governor of Unity state Taban Deng among others.
Machar denied plotting a coup and accused Kiir of using the clashes to get rid of his political opponents. He also rejected Kiir's offer to sit down for talks unless the latter agrees to step down first.
Observers say that the clashes are becoming increasingly tribal in nature with Nuer SPLA units defecting in show of support to Machar and attacking Dinka troops that are generally supportive of Kiir.
On Wednesday, the SPLA announced that it lost control of Jonglei state capital of 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 but it is unclear who is in control amid conflicting accounts.
The United Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said yesterday that tens of thousands of civilians have sought refuge at their bases in Juba, Bor and Bentiu.
Juba put the death toll at 500 but it is likely that it will be revised higher. The Indian ambassador at the UN said that three of its peacekeepers were killed in Jonglei.
The US has advised its citizens to depart South Sudan immediately and suspended operations at its embassy in Juba. Three planes were sent to evacuate its personnel and private citizens.
In his statement today, Obama reminded the Southern Sudanese of the sacrifices they made to establish their new country.
"In 2011, millions of South Sudanese voted to forge a new nation, founded on the promise of a more peaceful and prosperous future for all of South Sudan's people. In recent years, against great odds, South Sudan has made great progress toward breaking the cycle of violence that characterized much of its history".
"Today, that future is at risk. South Sudan stands at the precipice. Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past".
Obama said that South Sudan "has a choice".
"Its leaders can end the violence and work to resolve tensions peacefully and democratically. Fighting to settle political scores or to destabilize the government must stop immediately. Inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence must cease. All sides must listen to the wise counsel of their neighbors, commit to dialogue and take immediate steps to urge calm and support reconciliation. South Sudan's leaders must recognize that compromise with one's political enemy is difficult; but recovering from unchecked violence and unleashed hatred will prove much harder"
"Too much blood has been spilled and too many lives have been lost to allow South Sudan's moment of hope and opportunity to slip from its grasp. Now is the time for South Sudan's leaders to show courage and leadership, to reaffirm their commitment to peace, to unity, and to a better future for their people. The United States will remain a steady partner of the South Sudanese people as they seek the security and prosperity they deserve".
On Wednesday the UN Security Council (UNSC) urged all parties "to immediately cease hostilities, exercise restraint and refrain from violence and other actions that could exacerbate tensions".
They also called on Juba to engage in dialogue with its opponents and to resolve differences peacefully in order to prevent any spread of the current violence.