South Sudan's 'midwives' attack Kiir over corruption and abuses

KHARTOUM Mon Jul 8, 2013 4:11pm EDT

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir delivers a speech in the capital Juba, June 10, 2013. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir delivers a speech in the capital Juba, June 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A group of U.S. activists who helped to bring about South Sudan's secession have blasted the government of Africa's newest nation in an open letter for allowing "shocking" human rights abuses and corruption to undermine stability.

Two years ago, the oil producer won independence from Sudan under a 2005 peace deal that ended one of Africa's longest civil wars, helped by a group of U.S. activists who lobbied the United States to press Khartoum to let the south hold an independence referendum.

The group, often known as South Sudan's "wonks" or "midwives", still wield influence with U.S. policymakers, and have long shielded South Sudan from rising criticism over human rights violations.

But an open letter to President Salva Kiir distributed by email, they said they could no longer be silent about violence by security forces against civilians, critics of the government and journalists.

"We joined you in your fight against these very abuses by the Khartoum regime for many years. We cannot turn a blind eye when yesterday's victims become today's perpetrators," said the activists, who include former U.S. State Department official John Prendergast and professor Eric Reeves.

"This violence is shocking and has included rape, murder, theft and destruction of property."

While normal South Sudanese had no access to hospitals or schools, people stealing public funds had sent their children to private schools abroad or to get the world's best medical service. "In a remarkably short period of time, the name of your country has become synonymous with corruption," the letter said.

Kiir last month suspended two ministers over alleged fraud but critics say such measures are mere window-dressing to address rising criticism from donors.

Kiir also wrote last year to 75 current and former officials to ask them to return $4 billion in stolen public money, but diplomats say this has not been backed up by any prosecutions.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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