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U.N. officials have been sounding the alarms about the possibility of a genocide in South Sudan. A civil war broke out in the country in 2013, just two years after it became an independent country. Now rape and killings are widespread. But yesterday, the U.N. Security Council rejected U.S. calls for an arms embargo and sanctions on the parties at war. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, won a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book about genocide prevention. And as U.N. officials started sounding the alarms about South Sudan, she tried to persuade her fellow Security Council members to at least stem the flow of weapons to South Sudan and punish those responsible on both sides for stoking ethnic violence.
SAMANTHA POWER: They came here and their - the lights flashed red. That doesn't happen in this council very often, where you get just a string of U.N. officials coming and describing the gravity of what lies ahead.
KELEMEN: But even as U.N. officials reported widespread rape and ethnic cleansing, Power was unable to get enough support in the Security Council on Friday. Her draft resolution failed with more abstentions than yes votes.
POWER: The council members who didn't support this resolution are taking a big gamble that South Sudan's leaders will not instigate a catastrophe. If those council members are wrong - and every report we have heard in this chamber suggests that they are - it is the people of South Sudan who will pay an unbearable price.
KELEMEN: Russia abstained, and its ambassador accused Power of, quote, "high-handed conduct" in the council. China also abstained, pointing out that South Sudan's president has announced plans for a national dialogue. Even Japan, a key U.S. ally, abstained from the vote. Japan has peacekeepers in South Sudan and argues that sanctions could be counterproductive. British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft says South Sudan's government may be saying positive things now, but the reality looks different as authorities kick out aid workers and restrict U.N. peacekeepers.
MATTHEW RYCROFT: In reality, the U.N.'s mission continues to face chronic restrictions. In reality, the humanitarian situation has got worse - not better - and people are suffering. In reality, they are voting with their feet. Up to 6,000 of them per day fled for Uganda this month.
KELEMEN: Western diplomats are now appealing to those who abstained from the vote Friday to come up with something better.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.