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South Sudan Information Minister Defiant About US Sanctions

FILE - South Sudan's Information Minister Michael Makuei.

South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei has said he will continue to speak publicly on behalf of President Salva Kiir’s government despite being the target of U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on September 6, implicating Makuei for his role in threatening the peace, security, or stability of South Sudan.

South Sudan's government has been battling rebel groups in a war that has displaced some 4 million people.

Makuei, speaking to VOA's South Sudan in Focus for the first time about the sanctions, said he is not frightened by the actions of the Trump administration.

"The fact that I am sanctioned does not stop me from continuing to perform my duties as the minister of information and the spokesman of the government. I will continue to talk for the government (of South Sudan) and say whatever the government wants to be said. The fact that I am sanctioned — I do not have much interest in going to America," Makuei said.

Makuei said he is just doing his job as the minister of information, adding that all his pronouncements are official government positions.

"Whatever I was doing and whatever I am doing up to this moment, I am doing it in my official capacity as the spokesman of the government. Whatever I say is not my personal opinion; it is not my personal position, but this is the position of the government," he said.

Makuei’s wife and children resettled in the United States during the 21 years of conflict before South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011. He acknowledged that the sanctions prevent him from traveling to see them.

"I am in contact with them. If they want to see me, it is open for them to come and see me. There is no way I would insist on going to America," he said.

The sanctions notice, U.S. Executive Order 13664, authorized a travel ban and an asset freeze of "persons who threatened the peace, security or stability of South Sudan." American citizens are prohibited from conducting any business with the sanctioned individuals.

In addition to Makuei, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Malek Reuben Riak Rengu and Paul Malong Awan, and three companies owned or controlled by Rengu.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced more targeted sanctions against South Sudanese citizen Benjamin Bol Mel and three of his companies.

The U.S. embassy in Juba said Bol Mel is a close associate of President Kiir and used connections to win government contracts worth millions of dollars for construction work that was not completed.

Information Minister Makuei said additional sanctions or threats from the "troika" countries of the United States, Britain and Norway will not intimidate South Sudan into bending to international demands.

"Yes, these people [Troika], they have the rights to say whatever they want; but, this does not mean we must agree because of threats. We will agree because we need peace," Makuei said.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the  South Sudan In Focus radio program.
    Before joining VOA, John worked in Nairobi, Kenya where he established the first independent radio station (Sudan Radio Service) for the people of Sudan. He has covered several civil wars both in Sudan and South Sudan and has been engaged in the production of civic education materials for creating awareness about post conflict issues facing Sudanese and South Sudanese. John has interviewed South Sudan President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, Vice President Wani Igga, leader of Sudan’s Umma Party Sadiq Al Mahdi in addition to other senior United Nations and U.S government officials in South Sudan and Washington. His travels have taken him across to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, DRC Congo and parts East Africa where he reported on the South Sudanese diaspora and the challenges facing them.
    A South Sudanese national, John enjoys listening to music from all over the world, reads academic books, watches documentaries and listens to various radio stations on the internet.  You can follow John on Twitter at @Abusukon