Zee Media Bureau
Addis Ababa: US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Thursday of the risk of genocide and famine in South Sudan, brandishing the threat of sanctions against leaders of the country`s warring factions.
Outrage is mounting over the scale of killings in South Sudan, with both government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels backing ex-vice president Riek Machar implicated in massacres, rapes, attacks on UN bases and recruiting child soldiers.
"There are very disturbing leading indicators of the kind of ethnic, tribal, targeted nationalistic killings taking place that raise serious questions," Kerry told reporters in the Ethiopian capital.
"Were they to continue in the way they`ve been going (they) could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the questions of genocide," he added.
Fears of both genocide and famine in war-torn South Sudan dominated Kerry`s agenda on Thursday, one day after arriving in Ethiopia to launch a six-day Africa tour focusing on the continent`s most brutal conflicts.
"Those who are responsible for targeted killings based on ethnicity or nationality have to be brought to justice, and we are actively considering sanctions against those who commit human rights violations and obstruct humanitarian assistance," he said.
Thousands of people have already been killed -- and possibly tens of thousands -- with at least 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes in the the world`s newest country.
Kerry`s comments followed warnings on Wednesday by top United Nations rights officials, who vowed they would to do everything in their power to prevent the country from sliding into genocide, and warned of the growing risk of famine."We need to try to prevent the widespread famine that could conceivably flow from the violence that is taking place there now," Kerry said, adding he was frustrated at the apparent lack of concern by both Kiir and Machar to stop the war.
"I was frankly disappointed by both individuals` responses," he said, adding that he had spoken many times to both leaders.
The war has taken on a bitter ethnic dimension, pitching Kiir`s Dinka community against the Nuer of Machar, but the US diplomats travelling with Kerry said the heart of the conflict was rather a personal "Riek Machar-Salva Kiir battle".
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Ethiopia on Thursday to allow greater freedoms for civil society and journalists, expressing concern for a group of bloggers and journalists arrested last week.
"They need to create greater opportunities for citizens to be able to engage with their fellow citizens and with their government by opening up more space for civil society," Kerry told reporters.
Rights group accuse Ethiopia of having one of the most closed press environments in the world.
"I am raising a very legitimate concern, we are concerned about any imprisoned journalist here or anywhere else," Kerry added, following a meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Washington is one of Ethiopia`s largest donors, and Kerry urged Addis Ababa to support a free press as an essential precursor to a legitimate democracy.
"The work of journalists, whether it`s print journalism or the Internet or media of other kinds, makes societies stronger, makes them more vibrant and ultimately provides greater stability and greater voice to democracy," he said.
Nine people were arrested last week on charges of "serious criminal activities". Rights groups said they were journalists and bloggers targeted in a sweeping crackdown against free speech.
Kerry is due to travel on to DR Congo and Angola on his Africa trip, which runs until May 5.
(with agency inputs)