The U.S. National Security Advisor has harshly criticized South Sudan on the anniversary of its independence, saying President Salva Kiir and the former vice president, rebel leader Riek Machar, are directly responsible for the country's return to war.
Susan Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Thursday that, in contrast to the joy that accompanied South Sudan's independence in 2011, the situation in South Sudan today "breaks my heart."
She said over the past 19 months, the South Sudanese government has "abdicated its responsibilities, failed to protect its citizens, and squandered its legitimacy" as violence has returned amid political conflict.
"The government and rebels are committing appalling crimes against innocent women, children, and the elderly. President Kiir and Riek Machar and their cronies are personally responsible for this new war and self-inflicted disaster. And only leaders on both sides can end this violence," Rice said.
Rice said the United States continues to support South Sudan's regional partners who are trying to help forge an end to the nation's violent conflict. She called on the South Sudanese government to establish immediately a transitional government that can serve with legitimacy and represent the needs of the people of South Sudan.
She promised that the United States will not abandon the people of South Sudan and will hold accountable those who abuse them. She said the U.S. and the international community "will punish those determined to drive South Sudan into the abyss."
South Sudan has endured 18 months of civil war between forces loyal to President Kiir and those allied to his former deputy, Machar. Fighting has persisted despite months of talks in Addis Ababa and several ceasefires.
The United Nations refugee agency said this week the conflict has displaced more than 1.5 million South Sudanese internally and forced another 730,000 into neighboring countries. Ethiopia hosts 275,000 of them.
Machar said on Wednesday that the country's civil war will continue as long as President Kiir remains in power. South Sudan's parliament on Wednesday formally gave President Kiir a new three-year mandate.