Voice of America (Washington, DC)

South Sudan: U.S. Positions Troops to Enter South Sudan

The U.S. military says a force of 150 Marines is ready to enter troubled South Sudan to help evacuate Americans and protect U.S. facilities.

The military's Africa Command tells VOA the special task force has been positioned in Djibouti, the site of the only U.S. military base in Africa, so it can quickly respond to the crisis in South Sudan as needed.

The U.S. has evacuated several planeloads of Americans from South Sudan since fighting broke out December 15 between supporters of the president and his former vice president.

The U.N. says the fighting has displaced about 100,000 people, more than 40,000 of whom have taken refuge on U.N. bases.

The U.N. Security Council is due to vote Tuesday on a resolution to send 5,500 additional peacekeepers to South Sudan.

The U.S. says all members of the Council support the proposal. The troops would be transferred from other U.N. missions in Africa.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Monday in a meeting with U.S. special envoy for South Sudan Donald Booth that he is willing to hold talks with his former vice president Riek Machar without preconditions.

The country's Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told VOA that Kiir stressed in remarks to parliament that he will never again take South Sudan to war and that talks are the way to end the violence.

"President Salva Kiir, being an elected president democratically, is responsible for the lives of the people of South Sudan, including the foreigners in this country, so it is his absolute constitutional right and mandate to see that peace is achieved," Benjamin said. "And I hope Dr. Riek Machar should also be able to see the same, that the people of this country suffered so much and cannot be losing their lives because of a power struggle."

Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, blames Machar, an ethic Nuer, for what he says was an attempted military coup that triggered the violence. Hundreds of people have died in the fighting.

Machar told Reuters on Monday that he will take part in dialogue immediately if Kiir releases detained opposition leaders.

Journalist Hannah McNeish, who is in the capital, Juba, tells VOA the fighting has a clear ethnic element, with members of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups targeting each other.

"There are people going house to house, tracking people down in terms of ethnicity," she said. "They are taking them out of their houses, they are binding their hands, and executing them if they are not the right ethnicity. This is completely out of control."

South Sudan has a history of tribal violence, dating from before its independence in 2011.

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