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Amnesty: S. Sudan Security Blocks Citizens From Leaving Country

Indian nationals board an Indian Air Force plane July 14, 2016, as they leave Entebbe, Uganda, to go back home after arriving from Juba, South Sudan. India and other nations continue to evacuate citizens from South Sudan, where fears of a return to civil war persist.

South Sudanese national security agents are deliberately blocking citizens from leaving the country, Amnesty International said.

Amnesty researcher Elizabeth Deng said Thursday that national security teams were ordering airline companies not to allow South Sudanese men to board flights departing from Juba International Airport. Deng said Amnesty also had received reports of South Sudanese men being blocked from entering Uganda by road at the border town of Nimule.

“We’ve been told repeatedly that people are told South Sudanese men are not allowed to leave. They’re being told things like, ‘You’re South Sudanese, why are you leaving the country? You need to stay here and fight.’ So it appears to be quite systematic,” Deng said.

Deng said that kind of activity was a clear violation of citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of movement.

Forces loyal to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar engaged in five days of street battles with anti-aircraft guns, attack helicopters and tanks until a cease-fire was reached Monday.

The fighting prompted the United Nations and some countries to withdraw nonessential personnel. The United States sent 47 additional troops to protect U.S. citizens and the U.S. Embassy.

Amnesty International called on South Sudan's government to ensure that people can leave the country, to guarantee safe passage to civilians fleeing violence, and to allow them to seek refuge both inside and outside South Sudan.

Deng said that her group had not been able to determine the source of the practice of denying citizens their right to leave, but that the systematic nature of the practice indicated the order was probably coming from “a senior level, because it is being implemented consistently by immigration officers and national security agents.”

There have been a few cases in which men have been allowed to leave, perhaps for educational reasons, or because their activities were deemed permissible, Deng said.

There were also reports of people’s passports being confiscated and of people being detained at the airport by national security agents.

It appeared that the orders for allowing South Sudanese to cross the border into neighboring countries at checkpoints was being applied somewhat selectively, based on ethnicity or political affiliation, according to Deng.

South Sudan's permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Akuei Bona Malual, denied the government was preventing South Sudanese from leaving the country.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.