JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - One day before the United Nations Security Council votes on proposed U.S. sanctions against six South Sudanese officials accused of obstructing the peace process, President Salva Kiir left his nation's capital, Juba, for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is seeking Ethiopian support to stop the U.S.-drafted sanctions.
Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny says Kiir will ask Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to use his position as head of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, to block the proposed sanctions. IGAD sponsored a series of failed peace talks between the government and rebel groups aimed at revitalizing a peace agreement signed in 2015.
Ateny told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program that President Kiir will assure Prime Minister Ahmed that the Kiir government is committed to restoring peace in South Sudan. He says Kiir will argue that U.N. sanctions could hinder efforts to restore peace. South Sudan's defense minister, Kuol Manyang Juk, would be among the six officials blacklisted if the measure passes.
"The gap is always widened by the fact that each time the peace process is about to start, the United States of America issues standing orders in regard to sanctioning individuals within the government. So that one is translated by the rebels to be of their advantage and they become more intransigent," Ateny told South Sudan in Focus.
Ethiopia is currently one of three African non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Members are expected to vote on the proposed sanctions Thursday in New York. All council members must vote in favor of the resolution for it to pass.
Juba-based political analyst James Okuk, a professor of politics at the University of Juba, says Kiir probably wants Ethiopia to persuade other council members to vote against the U.S. proposal.
"Maybe this time, Kiir wants to lobby so that Ethiopia doesn't vote in favor of the sanctions, and it might also use its influence as an African country to convince others not to vote so that they don't get the nine votes needed in the U.N. Security Council," Okuk told South Sudan in Focus.
Okuk said Kiir's lobbying efforts will only succeed if he assures the Ethiopian leader that he will make concessions on the contentious issues which prevented the warring parties from reaching a peace deal during the last round of talks earlier this month in Addis Ababa.
"He has to let go some of those positions and give in to the opposition and if he does that, [it] means those who will go home will not be happy and that is the tough time he is in now. But if he doesn't make those concessions, it means there will be no peace in the country," Okuk said.
He said it is now up to the president to make concessions that will appease the opposition parties so peace can be achieved in South Sudan. And Okuk warns that if Kiir does not offer serious concessions, South Sudanese leaders could face more sanctions in the near future.
South Sudan's conflict began in 2013 as a power struggle between Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar. The war has driven more than 4 million South Sudanese from their homes and caused a humanitarian crisis that has left some 7 million people in need of aid. South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 and is the world's youngest country.