John Kerry warns of South Sudan genocide

image captionRebel forces have been accused of trying to overthrow the government

US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned of a possible genocide in South Sudan if more peacekeepers are not rapidly deployed to end the conflict.

South Sudan had been hit by "ethnic, tribal, targeted nationalistic killings", he said.

Rebel forces deny UN charges that they killed hundreds of people along ethnic lines after seizing the oil hub of Bentiu last month.

More than a million people have fled their homes since December.

Mr Kerry was speaking in Ethiopia after holding talks with African Union officials about the conflict.

He is on a four-nation tour of Africa, which ends on 5 May.

After talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Mr Kerry also called for greater freedom in Ethiopia.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe UN is battling to curb the conflict in South Sudan

"I am raising a very legitimate concern - we are concerned about any imprisoned journalist here or anywhere else," Mr Kerry said.

Critics say the Ethiopian government does not tolerate any dissent.

It is a close US ally in East Africa, playing a key role in fighting Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, which became the world's newest state in 2011 after seceding from Sudan.

Last month's slaughter in Bentiu is said to have been one of the worst atrocities since fighting broke out in December between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar.

The violence began as a power struggle between the two, but it later assumed ethnic dimensions.

Mr Kiir is a member of the country's largest group, the Dinka, while Mr Machar is from the second-biggest, the Nuer.

In Bentiu, non-Nuer South Sudanese, citizens of Sudan and even Nuers who were not celebrating the rebel arrival were singled out and killed, the UN says.

image copyrightAP
image captionRiek Machar denied accusations that he was plotting a coup, but then mobilised a rebel force to fight

The BBC's Alistair Leithead in South Sudan's capital, Juba, says 2,500 soldiers from Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are expected to be deployed.

They would have broader rules of engagement and would be allowed to use greater force to keep the two sides apart and protect civilians, he says.

Foreign diplomats warn that the period before the troops arrive would be dangerous, our correspondent adds.

Mr Kerry said he hoped that "in these next days literally we can move more rapidly to put people on the ground who can begin to make a difference".

If the violence continued along ethnic lines, it "could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide", he said.

"It is our hope that that could be avoided,'' Mr Kerry told journalists.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said regional governments agreed that a quick solution was needed.

"There is an agreement that we have to be as aggressive as possible in order to have an impact on the ground in South Sudan," he said, the Associated Press news agency reports.

However, it remained unclear, despite Mr Kerry's lobbying, whether the AU would send enough troops to South Sudan, AP reports.

image captionFighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
image captionSudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
image captionBoth Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
image captionThe two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
image captionAfter gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
image captionJust 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
image captionAlmost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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