Lawmakers: US aid could be cut off to S. Sudan

Top lawmakers warned late Tuesday that U.S. assistance for South Sudan could be cut off, if the country’s president does not refrain from violence.

Thousands are believed to have died in a civil war in South Sudan, the world’s newest country. The Obama administration has sent 150 Marines to the country to assist with the security and possible evacuation of U.S. facilities.

Two mass graves were found in one rebel-held city. Because the dead were reportedly ethnic Dinka, the same tribe as South Sudan President Salva Kiir, it has raised fears of retaliation.

In a letter to Kiir, members of Congress wrote that “any political leaders who attempt to seize or control power through military means will jeopardize future U.S. engagement and assistance.”

It urged Kiir to make public statements that would calm the situation.

“Any political leaders who put on Army fatigues and pick up weapons will surely reverse the gains made since independence,” the letter said. “[Y]our public statements carry great weight in setting the political tone of the current situation. Rhetoric that appears to condone violence will serve only to deepen the growing rift in your country.”

The letter was signed by the leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs panels, including House panel Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Senate committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Both panel ranking members, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), also signed it, as did the co-chairs of the House Sudan Caucus, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to convince the two sides to enter peace talks. He spoke Tuesday with rebel leader Riek Machar, the nation’s former vice president, and urged him to implement a cease-fire.

"This will offer critical humanitarian access to populations in dire need and open a space for a mediated political dialogue between the opposing sides,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.