A British minister says targeted killings of specific ethnic groups in South Sudan, which plunged into civil war in 2013, amount to “genocide”.
“It’s tribal, it’s absolutely tribal, so on that basis it’s genocide,” International Development Minister Priti Patel said in Uganda after returning from a visit to South Sudan.
The South Sudanese people have “experienced trauma and horror none of us can comprehend,” she said.
Patel said government troops in South Sudan have been “targeting certain groups of people” in the second largest city of Wau this week.
South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei denounced Patel’s comments as “unfortunate and misleading.”
“That is a very unfortunate statement given by an irresponsible person. There is no genocide,” he said.
“If they talk of a genocide what are the criteria of a genocide? If they talk of a genocide, then the whole world will be in genocide because of what is happening in the US, in Germany, even in Britain,” Makuei added.
A civil war erupted in South Sudan in 2013 after a power struggle between President Salva Kiir — who is ethnic Dinka — and his former deputy Riek Machar from the Nuer community.
The two sides then got involved in a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the impoverished country along ethnic lines between the Dinka and Nuer communities.
The conflict has also drawn in the country’s myriad smaller groups, either taking sides with the government or the rebels.
The UN and international rights groups have on numerous occasions accused both Machar’s loyalists and government troops of committing atrocities during their military operations.
In a report obtained on March 6, the world body said the government was blocking desperately-needed food aid and restricting UN peacekeepers.
The internal report from UN chief Antonio Guterres to the Security Council singled out South Sudan’s government for “the destruction of all the social fabric in all parts of the country,” listing “outrageous” examples of belligerence by its security forces.
In early December last year, United Nations experts reported “ethnic cleansing” in several parts of South Sudan.
Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, has already warned of “a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide.”