JUBA - There was no indication that an American shot dead over the weekend was a journalist, South Sudan's army said Tuesday, accusing him of entering the country with rebel forces.
"Anybody who comes attacking us with hostile forces will meet his fate," army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said, warning that any journalists entering the civil war-torn east African nation illegally will not be protected.
The 28-year-old Christopher Allen, a freelance journalist, was killed Saturday amid fighting between government and rebel forces near the Ugandan border. His body was handed over to the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday.
Government troops "targeted" Allen when they saw him taking photos during the fighting, opposition spokesman William Gatjiath Deng said. The opposition says Allen was wearing a large vest with the word "Press."
Allen was shot in the head with a "large bullet," the army's chief medical officer, Dr. Peter Ajak Bullen, said, but he couldn't confirm that the American was killed at close range.
It is not clear who shot Allen. "Bullets don't know color or race," the army spokesman told journalists.
The opposition's deputy spokesman, Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, has said Allen and two other journalists were embedded with the rebels on a two-week mission after coming from Uganda's capital, Kampala.
Allen is the 10th journalist and the first international journalist to be killed in South Sudan since 2012, according to the United Nations. South Sudan is one of the harshest places in the world for journalists, according to press freedom groups. In the past few months, 15 South Sudanese journalists have been detained, beaten or denied access to information, according to the Union of Journalists in South Sudan, and more than 20 foreign journalists have been denied entry or kicked out.
South Sudan's civil war is well into its fourth year, with tens of thousands of people killed. The fighting, often along ethnic lines, defies peace deals and unilateral cease-fires.