FBI Investigates South Sudan Journalist Murder

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An FBI agent will investigate the killing of a South Sudanese writer and government critic, a case that has raised concerns over press freedom in the fledgling nation, U.S. embassy officials said Tuesday.

The FBI "senior official" will arrive in Juba this week to assist in the "murder investigation of South Sudanese journalist, blogger and political commentator" Diing Chan Awuol, the embassy said in a statement.

Relatives say Awuol, who wrote under the pen name of Isaiah Abraham, was shot dead earlier this month for outspoken comments that included calling for an improvement in relations with former enemies in Khartoum.

Colleagues said he had received death threats, while one employer, the Sudan Tribune newspaper, said he was questioned by security officials weeks before his death after he called for President Salva Kiir’s resignation.

Press rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the killing was a "tragic setback to the hopes cherished by South Sudan's defenders of freedom of opinion since independence."

South Sudan, which won its independence last year after decades of civil war with Khartoum, is struggling to stem rising insecurity and transform a rag-tag ex-rebel army into an effective army and police force.

The FBI investigation follows warnings made earlier this month by U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman who said it would be a "terrible tragedy and setback if the country was diverted and became prisoner of those who intimidate."

Lyman said that other heavy-handed actions by security forces -- including the shooting of several protestors earlier this month and reported army abuses against civilians in volatile Jonglei state -- must also be investigated.

On Tuesday reports emerged that the bodies of six people with their hands tied behind their back had been found after being kidnapped and executed by an armed gang in Western Bahr el-Ghazal state.

The killings were not believed to be linked to the shooting dead last week of nine protestors in the state capital Wau.

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