Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Lesley Wroughton

NAIROBI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from six African nations met in Nairobi on Monday to discuss ways to prevent South Sudan from sliding back into civil war.

World powers and regional states have struggled to find leverage over the country’s warring factions despite U.S. and European sanctions on some military leaders and African threats of punitive actions.

After a two-hour meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Kerry joined foreign ministers from Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda to discuss options for putting South Sudan’s peace process back on track. Ministers from Djibouti and Tanzania had been expected.

The meeting was expected to discuss plans by the U.N. to deploy a 4,000-strong protection force in the capital Juba, as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. The UN has threatened an arms embargo if the government does not cooperate.

“We will … talk about how we move forward in trying to implement peace in this country,” a senior State Department official said before the meeting.

“The people of South Sudan have suffered for far too long, and the continued instability there has led almost a million refugees and a humanitarian crisis that is far beyond the abilities of even the international community to respond to,” the official added.

South Sudan initially said it would not cooperate with the 4,000-strong force that will be under the command of the existing 12,000-strong U.N. mission UNMISS. Juba has since said it was still considering its position.

“We have not rejected it or accepted it, the sovereignty of the people of South Sudan will be decided by the parliament,” South Sudan’s presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said.

Since the world’s youngest nation gained independence in 2011, oil production – by far the biggest source of government revenue – has plummeted.

Worsening violence has raised fears of a return to civil war that erupted in late 2013, which broadly ran along ethnic lines, pitting President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against his rival and vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.

Machar led a two-year rebellion against forces loyal to rival Kiir before the two sides reached a peace deal in August 2015. Under the deal, Machar returned to Juba in April to resume his role as vice president.

After violence flared in the capital Juba last month, Machar withdrew his forces and Kiir subsequently sacked him as vice president.

Machar was picked up by U.N. peacekeepers in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo a week ago with a leg injury and was handed over to authorities in Congo.

Especially of concern to Washington was an attack on a Juba hotel in July by uniformed men who killed a U.S.-funded journalist and raped civilians, including aid workers. The U.N. has launched an investigation into accusations U.N. peacekeepers in Juba failed to respond properly to the attack.

In a letter to Kerry before his visit, the Human Rights Watch group urged him to discuss rights concerns with Kenyatta. The group said it had documented 34 cases of extrajudicial killings and another 11 deaths of people last seen in state custody over alleged links with al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi and in the northeast.

(Additional reporting by Denis Dumo in Juba; Editing by Edmund Blair and Dominic Evans)

Photo: 2016 Rio Olympics – Artistic Gymnastics – Preliminary – Men’s Qualification – Subdivisions – Rio Olympic Arena – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 06/08/2016 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at the gymnastics venue. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)