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April was one of the deadliest months in South Sudan since fighting broke out among political and ethnic factions in December. Thousands of people have been killed since the start of the conflict, many solely for their tribal background. Today, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Africa to accelerate the international effort to restore peace. His first stop was a country that is a linchpin to that goal: Ethiopia.
NPR's Gregory Warner reports from the country's capital.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: South Sudan would not be a country if not for the United States. The U.S. supporters its secession less than three years ago from its northern neighbor, Sudan. And it provided for the fledgling democracy with billions of dollars in aid. But to save South Sudan from collapsing into civil war, the United States needs Ethiopia.
Standing next Ethiopia's foreign minister and his counterparts in Kenya and Uganda, Secretary Kerry announced progress toward what many here have been demanding for weeks: a regional peacekeeping force led by those three countries to intervene in South Sudan.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: A legitimate force that has an ability to help make peace, needs to get on the ground as rapidly as possible.
WARNER: The secretary said this morning that they'd agreed on both the terms of the timing of this intervention force. And later, he said that troops could begin arriving in the coming days. If so, the secretary's visit will have resolved weeks of stalled negotiations between the United Nations, paying for most of that intervention force, and the African Union, based here in Addis Ababa, which is sending in the troops.
A clearly frustrated Kerry warned the South Sudanese government to stop its deadly political squabbles. But he also seemed frustrated with the United Nations for slowing the arrival of African troops, while its own peacekeepers have in key instances failed to protect civilians.
KERRY: The greatest single difference will be moving rapidly with U.N. Security Council imprimatur of support to get forces on the ground who could begin to separate people and provide safety and security.
WARNER: But even as the United States reached out to deepen its ties with Ethiopia, Ethiopia seems to be distancing itself from the West. A documentary that's been running on Ethiopian state television these past few weeks, accuses Western human rights groups of trying to destabilize the country, that's a crime here akin to terrorism.
And on Friday, six bloggers critical of the government, most of them just a few years out of college, were thrown in prison, accused, as the documentary predicted, of conspiring with foreign human rights groups to destabilize the Ethiopian government.
Kerry told reporters that he raised the issue with Ethiopian prime minister. He even mentioned one of the arrested bloggers by name. But that wasn't enough for this audience member, an Ethiopian independent journalist named Anani Asouri(ph).
ANANI ASOURI: These things are repeated, repeating very much.
WARNER: So many Ethiopian journalists have been arrested over the years, he said. And each time, the United States just issues another press statement.
ASOURI: Is it lip service or are you seriously concerned about the arrests?
KERRY: When I stand up in public and I say something, I try to be serious about it. And I think the fact that I'm doing that is serious.
WARNER: The journalist said that the U.S. was more serious about Ethiopia rescuing other African democracies than preserving its own.
Gregory Warner, NPR News, Addis Ababa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.