US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is due to travel to war-torn South Sudan on Wednesday to meet with the country’s President Salva Kiir – and she is angry.
After visiting South Sudanese refugees in Gambella, western Ethiopia on Tuesday and hearing of the brutal violence they fled, Haley asked a small group of reporters: “How can the international community allow this to go on?”
The United Nations has warned that South Sudan’s civil war is providing “fertile ground” for a genocide. President Kiir’s government has denied UN allegations of ethnic cleansing.
“At some point President Kiir needs to be held accountable for all of the tragedy that he’s caused these people,” said Haley, who will be the most senior member of President Donald Trump’s administration to visit South Sudan.
One woman at the Ngueyyiel camp told Haley she had been made to eat the flesh of her own baby after the child was taken from her and thrown in a fire. Another woman said she had been forced to eat the flesh of “her enemy.” As they recounted their stories many other women in the room wept.
“I was mad when I left the camp,” said Haley. “The fact that this is a man-made conflict, that one man has done so much harm to so many people, it’s heartbreaking.”
When asked what she would say to Mr Kiir, Haley said: “I don’t know ... because I think that what I was going to say was probably tame now compared to what I want to say.”
Since South Sudan spiralled into civil war in 2013, just two years after it gained independence from Sudan, nearly 350,000 refugees have flooded into Gambella. Almost 90 per cent are women and children and they are mainly from the Nuer ethnic group.
‘Trump wants to bring peace’
The war was sparked by a feud between President Kiir, a Dinka, and his former deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer. It has plunged parts of the world’s youngest nation into famine and forced a third of the population - some 4 million people - to flee their homes.
Haley is also visiting Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo during a week-long trip that diplomats hope will shed light on the Trump administration’s plans to engage with the continent.
A fragile peace deal in South Sudan broke down last year and international efforts to bring warring sides to new talks have not succeeded. The United States is considering how to pressure Kiir into peace, but withdrawing aid may not work, Haley said on Monday.
“I don’t think the US has a sole responsibility (for South Sudan), but I think the US will do what the US has always done, which is try and help people the best way that we can,” Haley said.
The Trump administration last month imposed sanctions on two senior South Sudanese officials and the former army chief for their role in the conflict, atrocities against civilians and attacks against international missions in South Sudan.
Haley said she planned to discuss with Trump what more the United States could do to end the violence in South Sudan.
“When you tell him the stories and you tell him what people think, he wants to be helpful, he wants to be someone who brings peace,” she said.