ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Making his first official trip to sub-Saharan Africa, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday demanded that Nigeria respect human rights as it cracks down on Islamist extremists and pledged to work hard in the coming months to ease tensions between Sudan and South Sudan.
Kerry, attending the African Union's 50th anniversary, backed the Nigerian government's efforts to root out Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked radical sect. But he said there is no excuse for abuses by armed forces in Nigeria's long-neglected north, where President Goodluck Jonathan has declared emergency rule.
"We defend the right completely of the government of Nigeria to defend itself and to fight back against terrorists," Kerry said. He added, however, that he has raised his concerns with Nigerian officials to insist on the military "adhering to the highest standards and not itself engaging in atrocities."
"One person's atrocities do not excuse another's," said Kerry, who later made his case directly to Jonathan over lunch.
Speaking to reporters alongside Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Kerry also blamed Sudan's government for much of the tension along its volatile border with South Sudan.
He says residents in the contested areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan don't want to be subjected to strict Islamist rules.
Both areas border the new nation of South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 under an agreement that ended decades of civil war.
Kerry travels today to Jordan, where he'll attend a business conference and outline plans to help revitalize the Palestinian economy.