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South Sudan Government Still Insists Coup Bid Started Conflict

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in capital Juba December 16, 2013, a day after fighting erupted in the capital. Government officials said the unrest was triggered by a failed coup, a premise that has been widely rejected by the international community, and a report by an African Union Commission of Inquiry, released on Oct. 27, 2015.

South Sudan Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin on Wednesday rejected the finding of an African Union Commission of Inquiry report that the conflict in the world's newest nation was not triggered by a failed coup bid.

"This was an attempted coup. So we are going to make clear now that there was an attempted coup..." Marial told South Sudan in Focus.

President Salva Kiir said on national television the day after violence erupted two years ago that soldiers allied with former vice president Riek Machar had tried to stage a coup in Juba.

But a team of African Union investigators, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, said in the report released Tuesday that months of on-the-ground inquiries in South Sudan turned up no evidence of a coup attempt in Juba on December 15, 2013.

There are some individuals in the national army who targeted ethnic groups but it is not government policy... to wage an ethnic war.
Barnaba Marial Benjamin

​The Commission of Inquiry report said the fighting may have been triggered by a mutiny or disagreement between members of the presidential guard, and "the ensuing violence spiralled out of control, spilling out into the general population."

The report also alleges that people were targeted for their ethnicity when the fighting erupted.

The Commission said it received reports that Dinka members of the presidential guard and other security forces targeted Nuer soldiers and civilians during the conflict. The report said South Sudanese who fled the fighting to neighboring countries told the AU investigators that up to 20,000 Nuer were killed in the first three days of fighting.

President Kiir is a Dinka, while Machar is a Nuer.

Marial said only that "there are some individuals in the national army who targeted ethnic groups" but said it was "not government policy... to wage an ethnic war."

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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.