South Sudan’s violent summer, alleged corruption according to the nation’s vice president

JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: Two weeks ago, the "NewsHour" reported on an investigation into corruption of the top leaders of South Sudan. The investigation by The Sentry group, a Washington non-profit, alleged insider dealing by the president and former vice president of the country, as well as their top generals.

After our report, the new vice president of South Sudan reached out to "NewsHour."

Hari Sreenivasan spoke with him last week about the report and also what has been a long, violent summer in the world's youngest nation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This summer, clashes between forces supporting the president of South Sudan and the former vice president have turned violent, pushing the nation toward the brink of a civil war.

On July 7, troops loyal to the president fired between 50 and 100 rounds of ammunition at a convoy of American diplomats. One group of Americans had to be rescued from the scene of the attack by U.S. Marines. No one was hurt.

Some reports said it was the president's own guards who led the assault. That same week, a group of government soldiers stormed the Terrain Hotel, targeting American aid workers with beatings and sexual abuse. Eyewitnesses told the Associated Press that many of the soldiers wore the insignia of the presidential guard.

Former Vice President Riek Machar left the capital, and in his absence, President Salva Kiir recently appointed this man, Taban Deng Gai, as vice president in his place.

Are the presidential guard under the president's control?

TABAN DENG GAI, South Sudanese Vice President: Yes, they are.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, they don't do anything without his orders?

TABAN DENG GAI: Not necessarily that. You know, even in America, Obama is the supreme commander, is the commander in chief.

If the army is misbehaving in Afghanistan or Baghdad, what do you say?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, the concern is, is that there was an attack on U.S. diplomats in July, and that came from the presidential guard. So was it under the president's orders?

TABAN DENG GAI: No, the attack on the American vehicle was not from the presidential guards. It was from security personnel who were on patrol.

The officer in charge was arrested and he's still under arrest and he's being investigated.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As for the July attack on the Terrain Hotel, Deng says that the president immediately ordered an investigation, led by one of South Sudan's most respected judges.

TABAN DENG GAI: There are a number of people up to now got arrested. But up to now, we have not yet established who among those arrested have committed the rape.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I ask these questions partly because, is it safe for an American to visit South Sudan?

TABAN DENG GAI: Is it safe for the American to visit Iraq or, say, Cairo, for example, or Nairobi? Is it safe?

Or is it safe for South Sudanese to visit U.S.? Those are relative. Crime happen anywhere. Even the days since I have been in New York here, there was a shooting in North Carolina. This is crime. Can you say to South Sudanese it's not say to go to North Carolina?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council authorized an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to South Sudan, this in addition to the nearly 14,000 already in the country.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power traveled to Juba for the announcement with President Kiir. Despite the joint appearance, the South Sudanese are hesitant to accept additional peacekeepers.

TABAN DENG GAI: Not that we don't want. We want — because the U.N., the world family have decided to enforce it on us. We can only live with it. There's no way of us saying that we don't want. But we're trying to tell the world that, look, let us be careful.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This most recent cycle of violence is once again forcing civilians to flee the capital city of Juba. The U.N. says that more than a million people have been displaced since the country's founding.

Just last week, the U.S. announced $133 million in humanitarian aid. This makes nearly $2 billion in U.S. aid to South Sudan since the nation's birth. There is growing concern as to how these dollars, as well as the nation's oil revenues are being spent.

A recent report by The Sentry group, a Washington based nonprofit, documented widespread corruption at the upper levels of South Sudanese government and military. It detailed lavish spending on mansions and luxury hotels around the world.

It says that President Kiir and Riek Machar have expensive homes in an exclusive neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, while the president built a massive compound in South Sudan, far away from the capital.

Vice President Deng says he has not read the report, but is still critical of the conclusions it draws about the president.

TABAN DENG GAI: To me, actually, the crime will be even if he did not even own one house. What has he been doing with the salary?

HARI SREENIVASAN: What does the president make in South Sudan? What's the salary?

TABAN DENG GAI: The salary? I do not know the salary, but, of course, you cannot compare it to American president.

HARI SREENIVASAN: No, no, I'm asking.

TABAN DENG GAI: But he can buy a house.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Let's put the president aside for a second. What about all the other different leaders that they have documented, the family members of the generals, sometimes their kids that actually run the businesses that get pretty big contracts?

(LAUGHTER)

TABAN DENG GAI: The kids running businesses, they need to be investigated. They need to.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what can you tell me that your government…

TABAN DENG GAI: I'm telling you, yes, we shall make of use of those informations.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Vice President Deng acknowledges that The Sentry group, led partly by John Prendergast and George Clooney, are friends of the nation, but disagrees with how the information was presented.

TABAN DENG GAI: They are friends of the president. They have access to the president. They could have discussed their finding with the president.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The vice president says he aims to meet with The Sentry group this week in Washington.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

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