News / Africa

White House: South Sudan Can Receive US Defense Assistance

The White House has declared the government of South Sudan eligible to receive weapons and defense assistance from the United States.

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Friday saying that the ability to provide defense materials and services to the government of South Sudan is in the national interest of the United States and could promote peace in East Africa. The determination does not constitute a decision to give defense support to the African state.

The announcement came after an outbreak of violence between two South Sudanese tribes that may have left thousands dead and some 50,000 people needing aid.

The United Nations said it has launched a "massive" humanitarian aid operation in South Sudan's Jonglei state, where tribal clashes occurred. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs told VOA Friday the food distribution already has started, and that U.N. agencies are finalizing emergency plans for water, health care, shelter and sanitation.

The violence broke out in Pibor last week when about 6,000 men from the Lou Nuer tribe attacked areas controlled by the rival Murle tribe.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said tens of thousands of people have returned to the town of Pibor now that the fighting has ended.   

A local South Sudanese official said Friday the violence killed more than 3,000 villagers, including more than 2,000 women and children.  U.N. officials have not confirmed those figures but say at least several dozen people have died.

Government forces have taken control of Pibor and the U.N. has vowed to increase its peacekeeping presence in the area.

Meanwhile, U.N. refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres is scheduled to visit South Sudan's capital, Juba, Saturday to discuss the humanitarian situation there.

The U.N. estimates more than 360,000 people have fled to South Sudan from neighboring Sudan in recent months.

Sudan's government is battling rebels in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, which border South Sudan. The rebels are believed to support the south, which split from the north in July.

Guterres is also scheduled to visit Sudan Tuesday to discuss humanitarian needs in that country.

The U.N. has asked Sudan to allow foreign aid groups to enter the war-torn states and reach people in need of assistance.  Khartoum has denied the request.

The world body cites reports suggesting that food shortages and malnutrition rates have reached "alarming" levels in parts of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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