The United States is ready to expand sanctions against South Sudan political and military officials to ensure progress in peace talks and a quick halt to fighting in the country, the U.S. envoy to South Sudan said on Thursday.
Ambassador Donald Booth said recent measures, including sanctions last week against two military officers on opposite sides of the violence, were intended to signal that the United States will not hesitate to act against those standing in the way of peace.
At least 10,000 people have died and more than one million have fled their homes since fierce fighting erupted in December in the capital Juba between forces of President Salva Kiir and supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy and long-term political rival.
“So far the focus has been on military commanders but we're signaling ... we are intending to continue utilizing the executive order in order to give those who need to negotiate the thought that the U.S. is serious, that there are consequences if this continues,” Booth said in an interview.
“We will continue to move forward on this but we want to use our sanctions in a way that doesn't foreclose negotiations but to facilitate them,” he added.
A meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York later on Thursday will call attention to the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, where 3.9 million people need food assistance and 1.8 million people have been displaced by the conflict.
Booth said the sanctions had the attention of senior members of the government and the opposition. Regional African countries are also ready to impose punitive measures if peace talks drag on without progress, he said.
Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia have all worked to end fighting in South Sudan.
“The continuing conflict continues to undermine their interests more than anybody else's other than the South Sudanese.” Booth said. “They also understand the danger of ungoverned or lightly governed spaces and so they don't want to see South Sudan go in that direction.”
Peace talks in South Sudan resumed last week in the Ethiopian capital and mediators warned time was running out.
Over the next few weeks the sides are expected to flesh out details on ending hostilities and disarming rebels groups.
The sides are working against a 45-day deadline for reaching an agreement, although Booth suggested there was some deliberate ambiguity in the timeline and it could be extended if there was progress in the talks.
“More importantly what is really needed in this 45-day period is to come up with the nature, scope or the shape, as well as the functions of what the transitional government will do,” Booth said.
Part of the discussions will also focus on how to better use South Sudan's oil profits.
“We would like to see the revenues be used to begin to build infrastructure and provide the social services that has largely been done with donor funding to date,” Booth said.