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South Sudan dissident flees to US over alleged ‘death squad’ hit


South Sudanese economist Peter Biar Ajak speaks to Reuters as he arrives at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, after fleeing Kenya with his family to the U.S., July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Prominent South Sudanese economist and government critic Peter Biar Ajak said Friday that he had sought asylum in the United States, accusing President Salva Kiir of trying to have him killed, a charge Juba denied.

Biar, a 35-year-old Harvard-educated economist who has worked for the World Bank, has been outspoken in his criticism of the country’s leadership and its handling of a civil war that left nearly 400,000 dead.

In July 2018 he was detained and held for eight months without charge. He was eventually found guilty of spying over an interview he gave to foreign media and sentenced to 13 years’ jail. He was pardoned in January.


On Friday he posted a photo of himself and his family arriving in the US, thanking President Donald Trump for giving them refuge “after I fled a death squad sent by … President Salva Kiir.”

South Sudan’s government said Biar’s accusation was “completely not true”.

“Biar was supposed to say this when he was here… he was released by the government,” foreign ministry spokesman Raphael Nhial Kulang told AFP.

“He should not just make allegations without a case.”


One of Biar’s co-accused, businessman Kerbino Wol, who was also pardoned, launched a rebellion and was killed by government forces last month.

South Sudan plunged into war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his former vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

A peace deal in September 2018 led to the formation of a unity government in February with Machar serving as first vice president — the latest attempt by the two men to rule together.

UN special envoy David Shearer warned on the country’s ninth anniversary of independence this month that there had been a “stalling of the peace process” and “escalation in conflict between armed groups” in several parts of the country which had led to deaths and displacement.


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