U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Anne Richard, on Tuesday called the violence in South Sudan a tragic chapter in the country's short history and pleaded with the warring sides to make peace.
Speaking in Juba on the last day of a week-long visit that took her to camps for internally displaced persons and refugees inside South Sudan and in neighboring Ethiopia, Richard said she and other Americans share the despair of the hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who have been forced from their homes by months of fighting.
“For those of us who have followed the situation here for many years, for many Americans who care about South Sudan, is a very, very sad chapter in the history of this young nation," she said.
Richard said that although the United States and the rest of the international community have given generously to South Sudan, the aid funds are not limitless and will be of little use if the fighting continues.
“There is a limit to how much aid can be provided in a year with so many crises around the world," Richard said.
"So the best thing ... will be to restore peace to South Sudan, to stop the hostilities and get back to the business of developing this nation into the great nation we all hope it will become,” she said.
At a conference in Norway in May, international donors pledged more than $600 million in aid for South Sudan, half of it from the United States. But the donors warned then that the funds would be of no help to the people in need of assistance if the warring sides in the country continue to fight and obstruct aid deliveries. Richard repeated that warning and said responsibility for ending the conflict lies with South Sudan’s leaders.
Refugees in Ethiopia
During her week-long visit, Richard traveled to a refugee camp in the Gambella region in Ethiopia, and to U.N. camps within South Sudan, which are hosting tens of thousands of internally displaced persons.
Ethiopia is hosting more than 158,000 South Sudanese refugees, the largest number of any of South Sudan's neighbors.
Richard also visited refugees from Sudan who fled violence at home and are now trapped by the fighting in South Sudan.
She said aid agencies are encountering difficulties reaching Sudanese refugees, particularly as most of the camps housing them are in volatile parts of South Sudan.
U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan, Susan Page, agreed with Richard that the only way to improve the situation for South Sudanese is to end the fighting. She said the United States and the international community are pressing both parties to resume peace talks in Addis Ababa, which were suspended indefinitely last month.
“We are supporting the peace process. We believe that this is the only game in town and we are going to do everything we can to support it," Page said.
As the two women spoke, there were reports of fresh fighting in parts of Unity state.
At least 10,000 people have been killed since South Sudan erupted in violence in December and over 1.1 million have been forced from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Humanitarian agencies have warned that the ongoing fighting has prevented farmers from planting crops, and that could push the country to the brink of famine. There is also a shortfall in humanitarian funding, in spite of the United States pledging another $21.6 million to South Sudan last week.