South Sudan is 'on the precipice' of civil war, President Obama warns

The US President has deployed a small military contingent to the country 'to protect American citizens and their property'
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President Barack Obama has warned South Sudan “is on the precipice" of civil war and has deployed a small military contingent to the country amid violent clashes in the capital of Juba.

Forty-five military personnel were sent to the area on Wednesday to protect United States citizens and property, he said. In a letter to Congress, Mr Obama explained they will remain there until the security situation improves.

“In recent years, against great odds, South Sudan has made great progress toward breaking the cycle of violence that characterized much of its history”, he wrote.

“Today, that future is at risk. South Sudan stands at the precipice. Recent fighting threatens to plunge South Sudan back into the dark days of its past.

“South Sudan has a choice. Its leaders can end the violence and work to resolve tensions peacefully and democratically. Fighting to settle political scores or to destabilize the government must stop immediately. Inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence must cease. All sides must listen to the wise counsel of their neighbors, commit to dialogue and take immediate steps to urge calm and support reconciliation.”

United Nations diplomats say sources in the country estimate the death toll to be between 400-500 following an alleged attempted failed coup by soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir's former deputy Riek Machar.

Two UN peacekeepers from India were killed on Thursday when their base, which was being used to shelter refugees, came under attack. A third was left seriously injured. Previous reports had suggested a third peacekeeper had also died.

An estimated 34,000 people have fled their homes and taken shelter with the UN in Juba and Bor. The Foreign Office announced yesterday it planned to evacuate 150 British nationals and some non-essential embassy staff.

It is also  advising against all travel within 40km of South Sudan's northern border with Sudan.

However, it stressed that its embassy in Juba remained open, though it is revising its status on a "constant basis".