US withdraws staff from South Sudan as war edges closer

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The United States has begun pulling out its diplomatic staffers from South Sudan as the planet’s youngest country creeps closer to the brink of war.

The State Department ordered all nonessential personnel to leave the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Juba on Sunday and is continuing to finalize the “ordered departure” on Monday, spokesman John Kirby said.

{mosads}“We’re not talking about evacuating the embassy. It’s an ordered departure,” Kirby said, hinting at hopes that the outbreak in violence would not explode into a full-blown civil war.

“It’s an ordered departure adjusting the footprint in response to the situation,” he added.

Kirby declined to say whether all embassy staff would be pulled as part of the plan.

“I’m not going to be able to say with great specificity what the end state of that is going to be in terms of presence there,” he said.

An outbreak of violence in South Sudan overshadowed the nation’s fifth anniversary of independence this weekend, as more than 200 people were reportedly killed in fighting between forces aligned with President Salva Kiir and rival Vice President Riek Machar. Two United Nations peacekeepers from China were reported among the dead.

Kiir and Machar ordered a cease-fire beginning later on Monday, but it’s unclear whether the truce will hold, as violence has escalated in recent days.

Tension between supporters of the two men has fallen along ethnic lines, with the Dinka group supporting Kiir and the Nuer backing Machar.  

South Sudan previously erupted into a civil war in December 2013, before a peace deal last summer. That deal brought Machar, a former rebel group leader, back to Juba in April, setting the stage for the latest period of turmoil.  

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