Skip to main content

Americans airlifted from South Sudan city racked by violence

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Elise Labott, and Barbara Starr, CNN
December 22, 2013 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Obama warns further U.S. action is possible
  • "U.S. citizens and citizens from our partner nations" were flown out, official says
  • U.N. says 62,000 people displaced by violence
  • South Sudan violence has spread from capital Juba farther north in one week

(CNN) -- All Americans who presented themselves at the United Nations camp in Bor, South Sudan, were evacuated safely Sunday amid deadly violence in the country, the State Department said. A State Department official said about 15 Americans were flown out.

U.S. personnel are working to confirm that no other U.S. citizens remain in Bor in need of evacuation, a State Department official said.

"This morning, the United States -- in coordination with the United Nations and in consultation with the South Sudanese government -- safely evacuated American citizens from Bor, South Sudan," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "U.S. citizens and citizens from our partner nations were flown from Bor to Juba on U.N. and U.S. civilian helicopters. The United States and the United Nations, which has the lead for securing Bor airport in South Sudan, took steps to ensure fighting factions were aware these flights were a humanitarian mission."

President Obama's statement on Sudan
Four U.S. troops injured in South Sudan

"The U.S. government is doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of United States citizens in South Sudan. We are working with our allies around the world to connect with and evacuate U.S. citizens as quickly and safely as possible," Psaki said.

The United Nations moved noncritical staff out of South Sudan's capital, Juba, across the border into Uganda on Sunday, as the violence spread inside the world's newest country.

U.N. civilian staff were moved from a compound in the flashpoint town of Bor to Juba on Saturday, the same day a U.S. mission to airlift Americans out was aborted when the aircraft came under fire.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders Sunday that 46 U.S. service members took part in the mission, and he noted he "may take further action to support the security of U.S. citizens, personnel and property, including our Embassy, in South Sudan."

Four U.S. troops were wounded in the attack in Bor and were expected to be moved to the U.S. military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, a senior U.S. official told CNN earlier Sunday.

One of the injured "went through some pretty serious surgery" after being taken to Nairobi, Kenya, for wounds from the gunshots fired at the aircraft. All four have been able to speak to their families.

Thousands displaced

Hundreds of people have been killed in a week of fighting, which has spread from Juba to oil fields farther north.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir blamed soldiers loyal to his former vice president, Riek Machar, for starting the violence.

Up to 40,000 civilians have taken refuge in United Nations bases in the country, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday.

"There are many more thousands of people who are very much in fear and vulnerable, and at this time, the priority of the United Nations is to (protect) the lives of civilians," Ban told a news conference in the Philippines.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates some 62,000 people have been displaced in total, with five of South Sudan's ten states affected by the violence.

The U.N. has said some 20 people were killed during an attack Thursday by about 2,000 armed youths on a U.N. peacekeeping base in Jonglei state. Two Indian peacekeepers were also killed.

After the attack, the assailants fled with arms, ammunition and other supplies, the U.N. said.

'We will not be intimidated'

In a statement Sunday, the U.N. said it had made the decision to relocate noncritical staff from Juba to Entebbe, Uganda, as "a precautionary measure to reduce pressures on its limited resources," while still providing assistance and shelter to more than 20,000 civilians who have gathered at its compounds in the capital.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan is planning to reinforce its military presence in Bor and Pariang, the organization said. Plans are also under way to relocate all noncritical staff from the U.N. compound near Bentiu in Unity state, and reinforcements will also be sent in.

"We are not abandoning South Sudan. We are here to stay, and will carry on in our collective resolve to work with and for the people of South Sudan," U.N. envoy Hilde F. Johnson said in the statement. "To anyone who wants to threaten us, attack us or put obstacles in our way, our message remains loud and clear: we will not be intimidated."

Ban said the U.N. would "transfer our assets from other peacekeeping missions," such as the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other areas, to the troubled country.

"We also seeking support from other key countries who can provide the necessary assets," he said. "We are in shortage of capacity. When the United Nations compound was overrun by 2,000 armed elements, we were having difficulties."

Echoing calls from Western governments, Ban urged an end to the violence and called on Kiir and Machar "to come to the table and find a political way out of this crisis."

"They are responsible to the people of South Sudan to end the crisis and find the political means of addressing their differences," he said.

Ban said he had dispatched a special representative to Juba to work with the U.N. envoy in the city. Washington is also sending an envoy.

Tensions have been high in South Sudan since July, when Kiir dismissed Machar and the rest of the Cabinet. The move inflamed tensions between Kiir's Dinka community and Machar's Nuer community.

South Sudan formally split from Sudan in 2011 after a referendum, following decades of conflict. Numerous armed groups remain active in the oil-rich country.

CNN's Anna Maja Rappard and Tom Watlkins contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 2332 GMT (0732 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 0613 GMT (1413 HKT)
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0154 GMT (0954 HKT)
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT