Juba, South Sudan — Diplomatic representatives from the United States and the United Kingdom are calling upon the South Sudanese government to initiate a thorough investigation of the 2017 death of British-American journalist Christopher Allen.
A 26-year-old freelance journalist who held British and American nationality, Allen was shot and killed on August 26 of that year while covering a confrontation between the South Sudan People's Defense Forces and the former rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army-in-Opposition, SPLA-IO, in Central Equatoria state along the South Sudanese-Ugandan border.
American and British embassies in South Sudan recently issued a joint statement marking the sixth anniversary of Allen's passing, urging South Sudanese officials to probe and release the findings of what led to his killing.
South Sudan has refused all prior calls to hold an investigation. Allen's family has been unsuccessful in calling on the FBI to investigate his death as a possible war crime.
In an audio recording shared with VOA by the U.S. embassy in Juba, U.S. ambassador to South Sudan Michael J. Adler emphasized the importance of transparency from the South Sudanese government.
"On this somber anniversary, the U.S. and U.K. Embassies renew calls for the transitional government of South Sudan to conduct a credible investigation into the death of Christopher Allen, to make the results public, and to ensure accountability," Adler said. "After six years, Mr. Allen's family, friends, and colleagues deserve answers."
South Sudan's information minister and government spokesperson Michael Makuei initially labeled Allen as a "white rebel," who met his end in the skirmishes. However, Makuei later altered the narrative, asserting that Allen fell victim to crossfire as government troops battled SPLA-IO rebels.
John Wulu, a South Sudanese journalist, highlighted the chilling impact of Allen's death on the state of press freedom in the region.
"Working as a journalist in South Sudan within a conflict zone is perilous. Our country lacks professionalism, and amidst the numerous conflicts, it's often unclear who is fighting whom," he told VOA. "This uncertainty extends to our safety."
Maj. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesperson for the South Sudan People's Defense Forces, attributed the responsibility for investigating Allen's death to the SPLA-IO. Koang argued that Allen was a guest of the SPLA-IO.
At the time of his death, Allen was embedded with the SPLA-IO when the former rebel fighters attacked the defense forces in the government-held town of Kaya in Central Equatoria state.
"The SPLA-IO should be responsible for the investigation. He entered the country illegally, associated with hostile forces, and they attacked us. We're not accountable.
"Those who misled him and embedded him with their forces should conduct the inquiry into his demise," Koang added. "Our forces were attacked, and they retaliated in self-defense. We have no reason to investigate a death that occurred on the other side. Had he been killed on our side, we'd have undertaken the investigation."
Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, spokesperson for the SPLA-IO, countered Koang's stance, asserting that his group does not bear responsibility for investigating Allen's killers.
"The American government is likely asking for the unity government to take responsibility, provide strong policies against such incidents, and possibly issue a statement to the late journalist's family," Gabriel said.
Adler underscored that the demand for a credible investigation and accountability regarding Allen's death is integral to the safety of journalists in South Sudan. The U.S. envoy to South Sudan said that an independent and uninhibited press is a cornerstone of healthy democracies worldwide.
"This issue concerns the right of journalists to work without endangerment and the eradication of impunity for acts of violence and crimes against them," Adler said.
South Sudan In Focus' Deng Ghai Deng contributed to this report. This story originated in VOA's English to Africa Service.