US seeks sanctions on South Sudan rebel leader, army chief


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States is seeking to impose sanctions on South Sudan’s rebel leader, army chief of staff, and information minister for fueling conflict and obstructing peace in the world’s newest nation.

An annex to the U.S. resolution calling for an arms embargo and new sanctions, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, would slap travel bans and freeze the assets of rebel leader Riek Machar, Gen. Paul Malong and Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth if approved by the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power urged the council on Thursday to authorize the arms embargo and new sanctions to curb violence that could lead to mass atrocities.

But Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Petr Iliichev on Thursday called the U.S. draft resolution premature and irresponsible. He added Friday that Russia feels “very strongly” that targeting leaders is ill-advised because it would negatively affect “the small progress that we have achieved” trying to restore peace. He wouldn’t say, however, if Moscow would cast a veto.

Power said an arms embargo can’t prevent weapons getting into the conflict-wracked country, but it would be “an important step toward curbing the ongoing violence perpetrated by government and opposition forces against civilians.” She told the council the people targeted would be those most responsible for preventing peace.

The Security Council issued a press statement Friday night signaling its readiness to consider additional sanctions “to prevent a further escalation of violence and conflict.”

Members agreed with Adama Dieng, the U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, “that what began as a political conflict has transformed into what could become an outright ethnic war.” They called on the government “to immediately address increasing hate speech and ethnic violence, and to promote reconciliation,” and urged all parties to take steps to take “meaningful steps” to promote peace.

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 has not stopped the fighting. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, more than 2 million are displaced, and U.N. envoy Ellen Margrethe Loj told the council Thursday the country faces a “dire humanitarian situation,” with 4.8 million people estimated to be “severely food insecure.”

According to the annex, Machar’s opposition faction “declared war on the South Sudanese government and called for armed resistance” after a wave of violence in the capital, Juba, led him to flee the country. It said “forces allied with Machar have raided villages and abducted civilians and aid workers.”

As chief of staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the annex said Malong has expanded the conflict in South Sudan and broken the cease-fire deal.

“As of early August 2016, Malong was responsible for efforts to kill opposition leader Riek Machar,” it said, including knowingly violating Kiir’s orders and launching tank, helicopter gunship and infantry assaults on July 11 against the rebel leader’s residence and the rebels’ “Jebel” base. He informed SPLA commanders “that Machar was not to be taken alive,” the annex said.

Lueth, the minister of information and broadcasting, “has repeatedly and consistently worked to obstruct and undermine the implementation of peace deals in South Sudan,” the annex said.

It cited Lueth’s involvement in planning and coordinating an April 2014 attack on the U.N. compound in Bor, the Jonglei State capital, that killed three U.N. guards and 140 civilians, and his statement in September that the government would treat “as invaders” members of a new regional force if they deployed without government approval on numbers, nationalities and equipment.

The Security Council has already imposed sanctions on six South Sudanese commanders — three from the government and three from the opposition. Last year, a U.S. attempt to blacklist Malong and top rebel commander, Maj. Gen. Johnson Olony, failed because of opposition from Russia, China, Angola and Venezuela.

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