South Sudan’s government on Wednesday lashed out at the United States after the Trump administration threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid amid the country’s grinding civil war, calling the U.S. “a real obstacle” toward achieving peace.
The statement from President Salva Kiir’s office also accused the Trump administration of “naked direct interference” in South Sudan’s affairs ahead of peace talks that resume May 17 in neighboring Ethiopia, mediated by a regional bloc.
The U.S. is the top aid donor to South Sudan, but in a sharply worded statement on Tuesday it said it would review its assistance if the East African nation’s conflict grinds on. The U.S. says it has given over $3.2 billion in humanitarian assistance since the conflict broke out in December 2013.
The absence of aid would have a devastating impact on more than seven million South Sudanese facing severe hunger as aid workers say famine could return.
International frustration has been rising with South Sudan’s warring sides, especially after a cease-fire late last year was violated within hours. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million people have fled the country, creating Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
While the South Sudan statement accused the armed opposition of blocking the path to peace by putting forward what it called impractical proposals, it noted that Kiir has invited former deputy and opposition leader Riek Machar to return to the country and given him 45 days to do so in an attempt to “reconcile with opposition leaders.” Machar fled during renewed fighting in 2016.
“Without a genuine peace Machar is not coming,” a spokesman for Machar’s group, Lam Paul Gabriel, told The Associated Press.
A new collection of opposition parties, which doesn’t include Machar’s supporters, on Wednesday commended the U.S. statement and accused South Sudan’s government of “tirelessly working to undermine the prospect” of peace.
One South Sudan conflict expert urged both sides to stop the attacks.
“The United States’ statement was a bit harsh but there’s no way the government of South Sudan should fight with them,” Jacob Chol, professor of comparative politics at the University of Juba, told the AP. “What should happen is more engagement instead of antagonistic fighting back. It’s not good for the welfare of the South Sudanese.”