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Diplomats Urge South Sudan Probe into Journalist's Death

FILE - John Allen and Joyce Krajian, parents of the late Christopher Allen, meet with South Sudan’s ambassador, Phillip Jada Natana in Washington, Aug. 26, 2019.

JUBA— Diplomatic representatives from the United States and the United Kingdom have jointly called upon the South Sudanese government to initiate a thorough investigation and release its findings into the death of a British American journalist, Christopher Allen, killed in 2017.

Allen, a 26-year-old freelance journalist, was killed on Aug. 26, 2017, while covering confrontations between the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces and the former rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition, SPLA-IO, in Central Equatoria state along the South Sudan–Uganda border.

As the sixth anniversary of Allen's passing approaches, the U.S. and U.K. embassies in South Sudan issued a collective statement on Wednesday, urging the South Sudanese government to release the findings of its investigation into Allen's death.

In an audio recording shared with VOA by the U.S. embassy in Juba, U.S. ambassador to South Sudan Michael J. Adler emphasized the importance of transparency from the South Sudanese government.

"On this somber anniversary, the U.S. and U.K. Embassies renew calls for the transitional government of South Sudan to conduct a credible investigation into the death of Christopher Allen, to make the results public, and to ensure accountability. After six years, Mr. Allen’s family, friends, and colleagues deserve answers," Adler said.

South Sudan’s information minister and government spokesperson Michael Makuei initially labeled Allen as a "white rebel," who met his end in the skirmishes.

However, Makuei later altered the narrative, asserting that Allen fell victim to crossfire as government troops battled SPLA-IO rebels.

John Wulu, a South Sudanese journalist, highlighted the chilling impact of Allen's death on press freedom in the region.

"Working as a journalist in South Sudan within a conflict zone is perilous. Our country lacks professionalism, and amidst the numerous conflicts, it's often unclear who is fighting whom. This uncertainty extends to our safety."

Maj. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang, a spokesperson for the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces, attributed the responsibility for investigating Allen's death to the SPLA-IO. Koang argued that Allen was a guest of the SPLA-IO.

At the time of his death Allen was embedded with the SPLA-IO, when the former rebel fighters attacked the defense forces in the government-held town of Kaya in Central Equatoria state.

"The SPLA-IO should be responsible for the investigation. He entered the country illegally, associated with hostile forces, and they attacked us. We're not accountable. Those who misled him and embedded him with their forces should conduct the inquiry into his demise. Our forces were attacked, and they retaliated in self-defense. We have no reason to investigate a death that occurred on the other side," Koang said.

"Had he been killed on our side; we'd have undertaken the investigation," he added.

Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, spokesperson for the SPLA-IO, countered Koang's stance, asserting that his group does not bear responsibility for investigating Allen's killers.

"The American government is likely asking for the unity government to take responsibility, provide strong policies against such incidents, and possibly issue a statement to the late journalist's family."

Adler underscored that the demand for a credible investigation and accountability regarding Allen’s death is integral to the safety of journalists in South Sudan.

"This issue concerns the right of journalists to work without endangerment and the eradication of impunity for acts of violence and crimes against them."

The U.S. envoy to South Sudan emphasized that an independent and uninhibited press is a cornerstone of healthy democracies worldwide.

Editors Note: This article was updated to correct the age of Christopher Allen at the time of his death.