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Daily Press Briefing - August 15, 2016: DRC, Zambia, South Sudan

Source: U.S. Department of State
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Elizabeth Trudeau

Director, Press Office

[Excerpted]

Democratic Republic of Congo: The United States offers our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the reported massacres that occurred the night of August 13th outside of Beni, North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by presumed elements of the Allied Democratic Forces armed group. Congolese authorities and the UN peacekeeping mission are working jointly to determine those responsible for the attack as well as the details of the what exactly happened.

We deplore in the strongest terms this horrific attack and will continue to support all efforts to end the ongoing violence in eastern Congo, to increase civilian protection, and to bring perpetrators to justice.

Zambia: Question: The opposition is challenging the results of the presidential election, alleging vote rigging, riots are breaking out in the south today. Does the United States recognize the results of the re-election of President Lungu?

Ms. Trudeau: So the United States welcomes the Zambian citizens’ democratic spirit which was characterized in voting on August 11th. We congratulate President-elect Edgar Lungu and call on all candidates to show leadership in respecting the official results as announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia. We do encourage all Zambians to maintain the good conduct exhibited during the vote, and if they have objections to the results, to use the approved legal mechanisms for peaceful re-address.

We do note the statements by many of the international election observer missions which highlighted concerns with the pre-electoral environment, specifically increased violence and restrictions on freedom of press and assembly. We hope that the government will address these concerns in the context of future elections to strengthen Zambian democracy. We have a strong partnership with Zambia and with the Zambian people. We look forward to advancing our shared interests.

South Sudan:

Question: There was a fairly disturbing account put out today of the July 11th attack on the

Terrain hotel compound. And as part of it, survivors are saying that they waited for hours after calling for help from the U.S. embassy as well as other embassies in the area, with no one responding. Do you dispute that, and do you have any timeline that you can share with us about what occurred during the time of the assault?

Ms. Trudeau: Okay. So I think we’ve all seen those horrific reports. I want to say at the top that privacy considerations will prevent me from talking about any specific part of this in detail. But as I go through this, I do not in any way want to minimize in any way, shape, or form what people might have gone through during that crisis in South Sudan.

So in terms of the timeline: In the midst of the ongoing fighting throughout the city between government and opposition forces, Embassy Juba actively responded to the July 11 assault on a private compound hosting U.S. citizens, among others. Upon learning about the attacks at Terrain camp, Ambassador Phee immediately – herself – immediately contacted South Sudanese government officials, including officials in the presidential guard and National Security Service. National Security Service sent a response force to the site and put a stop to the attack. Presidential guard forces also went to the scene, but they arrived after the National Security Service.

Following the attack and in the midst of ongoing fighting and violence throughout Juba, including in the immediate vicinity of the embassy, the U.S. embassy ensured that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals affected by the attack were moved to safety and provided emergency medical assistance. The U.S. embassy also facilitated the rapid departure of those involved from South Sudan by air ambulance.

As part of its response to the crisis in South Sudan, the U.S. embassy provided emergency services for those in need and assisted in the departure of more than 80 U.S. citizens during last month’s crisis.

We’ve stated we condemn these attacks. We have called for accountability for those who are involved in the violence.

Anything more on South Sudan?

Question: So you can’t confirm that Americans were singled out and were specifically assaulted due to the fact that they were American in the course of the assault?

Ms.Trudeau: I’m not in a position to say that any particular nationality was singled out.

Question: And as part of the report, it suggests that it was South Sudanese soldiers who were in fact committing this assault. So how was the U.S. embassy – how could they be assured that the people that they were calling were the ones who were actually going to help rather than contributing to the ongoing --

Ms. Trudeau: So what I can say is that the attackers in this incident wore uniforms and they were armed. There were both opposition and government troops in Juba at that time. Armed clashes were occurring throughout the city. The area where Terrain is located was controlled by the SPLA on July 10th and 11th.

Matt.

Question: Yeah, I just wanted – you said that the – in the midst of the ongoing attack at Terrain, you said Embassy Juba actively responded.

Ms.Trudeau: We did.

Question: So the active response, though, as far as I can tell from what you said, was that the ambassador made a phone call. Is that --

Ms.Trudeau: The ambassador made several phone calls.

Question: Several phone calls?

Ms. Trudeau: When we were assured that people would go out and bring people in, then we actively ensured that those people were safe. So yeah.

Question: But in the midst of – while it was going – I understand what --

Ms. Trudeau: Yeah.

Question: -- you’re saying after it was over what you did, but during it, was there --

Ms.Trudeau: When we received reports, we called the people who are best poised to go out and make it stop, which was the National Security Services as well as the presidential guard.

Question: But – yeah, I understand that, but I mean – but was it just the ambassador or did other people – did other staffers do anything? I mean, I’m just trying to get an idea of what the active response was.

Ms. Trudeau: Yeah, in terms of sequence, it was – it was reaching out to the government officials who were in a position at that place to intervene.

Question: So I think that the point that at least the survivors of this or some of the survivors of the attack is, is there wasn’t any kind – any attempt to intervene. Is that not appropriate or --

Ms. Trudeau: I – it’s – again, there was an immediate response from the U.S. embassy to identify and dispatch the people who could intervene immediately in the attack.

Question: Right. But the embassy itself was not in a position to do anything?

Ms. Trudeau: Was not in a position to do that.

Question: So did the embassy, then, reach out to the UN peacekeeping force or try to get the UN peacekeeping force there quickly? Is there any follow-up to that, any concern on the part of the U.S. about their handling of the situation?

Ms. Trudeau So we’ve raised the incident with senior officials in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations as well as the Secretary General’s staff. We will continue to seek clarification on the UN’s response to the events on July 11th.

Question: So did – but can you say whether the embassy, then, did try to reach out and get the UN peacekeeping force there on --

Ms. Trudeau: I have no information on that, Abigail.

Question: Thank you.

Link to full transcript : www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/08/261068.htm