Government forces are currently engaged in genocide in South Sudan, Angelina Teny, the wife of opposition leader Riek Machar, charged.
Commenting on recent warnings by United Nations officials of looming genocide, Ms Teny said civilians in parts of South Sudan are already being slaughtered on the basis of their tribal affiliations.
“Genocide has been happening,” she said in an interview with the Nation on Saturday.
“It hasn’t reached the scale of Rwanda. It’s happening slowly, but it is happening.”
The killings are targeting members not only of her own Nuer tribe but “all ethnicities in a very big way”, Ms Teny declared.
It is not members of the Dinka tribe per se who are carrying out the killings, she said, but rather “the government in Juba led by Salva Kiir”, who is a Dinka.
Ms Teny blamed the South Sudan president for moving to “tribalise the conflict”.
She estimated that the overall death toll since the outbreak of violence three years ago may be nearing 100,000.
Asked about reports that rebel forces affiliated with her husband have also killed civilians, the senior opposition official said her side has “no policy of targeting civilians”.
She added that the armed opposition does have a policy of bringing to justice those in its ranks who kill civilians.
“People are not running away from the IO,” she said, using the “In Opposition” acronym. “They are running to the IO.”
Mrs Teny said the IO supported the United States’ so-far-unsuccessful effort to persuade the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in South Sudan.
“We don’t buy arms,” she said. “We get captured arms from the government. We would welcome an arms embargo.”
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But Mrs Teny simultaneously rejected another aspect of the US initiative at the UN.
She said the Obama administration should not be seeking to impose sanctions on additional leaders on both the government and rebel sides, including Riek Machar.
“When you lump people together,” she said, “you’re shifting the focus from the situation that needs to be addressed: genocide in South Sudan.”
Dr Machar remains in South Africa under unclear circumstances.
Mrs Teny said her husband does not feel he is under house arrest there, but she added, “I would love to know whether they have arrested him”. She declined to discuss his situation in detail.
Negotiations are urgently needed to end the war in South Sudan and to reach a political settlement, Mrs Teny said. By continuing to recognise the Kiir government, the Obama administration is not facilitating this process, she added.
Further, Mrs Teny said US officials “have failed the people of South Sudan” by maintaining recognition of a government that is no longer a government of national unity.
She expressed hope that the Trump administration will take “a fresh look” at South Sudan and make needed changes in US policy.
“But it is not too late for Obama to act,” she emphasised. “He can still create a new political process.” Mrs Teny has been in the US for the past week, most recently meeting with UN officials in New York.
She said she will soon travel to the UK and then return to the US prior to going back to South Sudan.
She said it is not safe for her to go to Juba, South Sudan’s capital.
Instead, Ms Teny added, she can be secure in a part of the country controlled by the opposition.