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Report Reveals Corruption At Root Of South Sudan's Power Struggle


A power struggle in the world's newest nation, South Sudan, has led to fighting and atrocities that are tearing the country apart. Now some activists and famous actors are digging deeper to find out what is keeping the conflict going. They have found corruption and a lot of it. They're calling on the U.S. to help crackdown on the bankers, arms dealers and lawyers who are helping South Sudan's leaders profit from the chaos. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMAN, BYLINE: Several activist groups teamed up with actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle to draw attention to what they call the war profiteering in South Sudan's devastating conflict.


GEORGE CLOONEY: Top officials in South Sudan have built personal fortunes while their country suffers.

KELEMAN: This slick video presented at a Washington news conference today includes pictures of luxury villas said to be owned by the families of President Salva Kiir and his rival, former Vice President Riek Machar. The houses are in the same upscale neighborhood of Nairobi across the border in Kenya.

Clooney describes the evidence that his group, the Sentry, amassed over the past two years as quote, "thorough, detailed and irrefutable."


CLOONEY: The simple fact is they're stealing the money to fund their militias to attack and kill one another.

KELEMAN: Both sides have been blamed for mass rape, massacres and the use of child soldiers. And both sides, he says, have been looting the country's natural resources. The report finds that President Kiir's children and wife own stakes in the oil and mining sectors, in casinos and construction. The rebel leader was selling oil futures for weapons. While Clooney says it may be hard to shame those men, he does intend to confront the international bankers, the real estate agents, the lawyers.


CLOONEY: It's very easy to say, well, we didn't know. We didn't know we were doing business with people who were committing war crimes, and we didn't know that we were helping to fund atrocities. Well, we're going to let them know.

KELEMAN: The Sentry investigators are handing over their reports to the White House, Treasury and State Departments in hopes that the U.S. will consider new sanctions. Last week the U.S. envoy Donald Booth was testifying on Capitol Hill about some potential action.

DONALD BOOTH: Beyond an arms embargo, we stand prepared to impose visa restrictions on individuals involved in public corruption, as official corruption has a long history in South Sudan and has played a direct role in furtherance of conflict in the country.

KELEMAN: The U.S. has given South Sudan $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid in the past couple of years. Even so, the U.S. seems to have little leverage. When the violence intensified in July, government forces opened fire on U.S. diplomats in one incident and later attacked and raped Western aid workers. The U.S. has called on President Kiir to investigate. As for his former vice president, Riek Machar, he has fled the country, and Booth says he should stay away.

BOOTH: We do not believe it would be wise for Machar to return to his previous position in Juba. That said, this cannot serve as a justification for President Kiir to monopolize power.

KELEMAN: The activists of the Sentry project want the U.S. to use the same tools that have shut out terrorists from the U.S. financial system to squeeze the warring generals and politicians in South Sudan. Actor Don Cheadle says this should be a carefully targeted effort.


DON CHEADLE: Do it in a way that is precise so as to not scare them away from doing general business that is necessary for the people of South Sudan.

KELEMAN: As his colleague George Clooney puts it, no one wants South Sudan to become another Somalia, an isolated, failed state. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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