JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - The South Sudan government says it “regrets” the killing of an American freelance journalist on Saturday, and sends its condolences to his family. Christopher Allen was killed by South Sudanese government forces while embedded with rebel forces loyal to Riek Machar in the South Sudan-Uganda border area of Kaya.
Information Minister and government spokesman Michael Makuei denied the 28-year-old American journalist was targeted, initially saying Allen was one of the rebels.
“Sixteen rebels, including a white rebel, were killed. The identity of that man is not known, but he was among the rebels who attacked the garrison,” Makuei told VOA on Monday.
On Wednesday, Makuei changed the narrative, saying Allen was killed in the cross-fire as government troops fought to repulse the rebels.
He also sounded a more conciliatory tone, saying “We, as the government of South Sudan, pass our condolences to the family, friends and relatives of Christopher Allen, who died in the course of his duty.”
On Monday, SPLA-In Opposition deputy military spokesman Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel told VOA that Allen was "armed" only with a camera.
Makuei said the fact that Allen died is regrettable.
“We send our condolences to the family of Chris Allen for his untimely death. Here was a very young man who should have continued to serve humanity for long, but unfortunately he met his fate in Kaya,” he said.
Makuei told reporters Wednesday in Juba that government troops did not kill Allen intentionally.
“The killing of Christopher Allen was not targeted as it is being reported by some sources, but when fighting ensues between two fighting forces, then whoever is in front of you is a target. Because even in a fighting where we are shooting ourselves at a range of 50 or 100 meters, I will not see that what you are carrying is a camera,” he said.
Makuei's latest statement contradicts what he told VOA in Monday’s exclusive interview. In that interview, Makuei denied flatly that Allen was a journalist, adding, “he is a rebel. He attacked the town together with the rebels and he was killed in the line of the rebels.’’
Makuei said Allen was not allowed to enter South Sudan because the government objected to his previous reporting.
“Chris Allen had been one of the reporters who had been coming to South Sudan, but because of his hostile reports the government decided to deny him entry into South Sudan. And as a result he decided to go to the rebels and enter South Sudan the other way around,” he said.
Col. Gabriel said Monday that Allen entered South Sudan through Kampala.
About 20 other journalists also were denied entry into the country by South Sudan’s Media Authority in May and June.
Makuei said while the killing of Allen is regrettable, the international community also should condemn the attack on Kaya — which he says was carried out by rebels loyal to Riek Machar in an attempt to capture the town.
“I would expect the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to come out clearly and condemn the act of the rebels. I expect the European Union, the Troika, and the African Union and IGAD to come out and in clear words condemn these acts of the rebels,” Makuei said.
Ten journalists have been killed in South Sudan since 2012.