Washington - United States on Tuesday condemned South Sudan's expulsion of an outspoken UN aid co-ordinator as an "affront to the international community" and called for the strife-torn country to reverse its decision.
The UN announced on Monday that South Sudan officials had decided to expel aid co-ordinator Toby Lanzer just weeks before he was to leave for a new assignment.
South Sudan's government justified the move by stating that Lanzer had crossed a line when he made a comment predicting that the country would collapse.
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said that the expulsion "demonstrates a callous disregard for the suffering of the South Sudanese people".
"The expulsion of Mr Lanzer is an affront to the international community working to bring peace and stability to South Sudan," he said in a statement.
The world's newest state was plunged into conflict nearly 18 months ago between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy, Riek Machar.
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"The government's priority should be bringing an end to the violence that has already displaced more than two million of its citizens," Kirby said, adding that half a million of those people were now refugees in neighbouring countries.
Some 4.6 million people faced "extreme, life-threatening hunger" as a result of the situation, Kirby said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the move and called on Juba to immediately reverse the decision targeting Lanzer, a British national who also served as UN deputy envoy to South Sudan.
"We join UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other governments in calling on the government of South Sudan to reverse its decision and to cooperate fully with all United Nations entities present in South Sudan," Kirby added.
South Sudan is among the UN's worst humanitarian crises and Lanzer has put the blame for the worsening violence squarely on the shoulders of the leaders who have signed several peace accords and failed to implement them.
Lanzer is due to take up a new post as UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel at the end of June.