South Sudan President Salva Kiir has agreed to form a unity government with rebel leader Riek Machar less than 24 hours after the US sanctioned the country’s top ministers.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets on Monday sanctioned two South Sudan ministers for protracting the country’s conflict and obstructing the peace talks.
Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro and Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs Kuol Manyang Juuk are accused of perpetuating the South Sudan conflict “for their own personal enrichment, leading to much suffering for the South Sudanese people”.
Lomuro is accused of recruiting and organising local militias to conduct attacks against opposition forces, while Juuk is said to have failed to remove military forces from the battlefield as agreed, fomented violence with rival tribes, and oversaw the training of tribal militias to prepare for the possibility of renewed violence.
“These ministers perpetuated the conflict to cement the political status quo, fueling South Sudan’s war economy,” the US said.
The US said it would not hesitate to target those who have perpetuated the conflict in the poor country and will continue to apply pressure on the senior leadership of to take concrete measures to bring peace and stability to the country.
South Sudan’s Minister of Defence Kuol Manyang Juuk and President Salva Kiir at Juba Internal Airport in South Sudan on June 27, 2018. PHOTO | COURTESY | AFP
“The United States stands by the people of South Sudan who continue to suffer under this political instability that has led to thousands of deaths. The South Sudanese deserve leaders who are committed to laying the groundwork for a successful, peaceful political transition,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Justin Muzinich, said.
But on Tuesday, Kiir told reporters that he was ready to form a unity government even if they fail to resolve all their differences before a new deadline.
“We said that after 100 days we must form the government of national unity. If the arrangements are not complete, we shall form a transitional government of national unity to implement the outstanding issues,” President Kiir told reporters in Juba on Tuesday.
In September 2018, Kiir and Machar reached a revitalized peace agreement that called for the formation of a national unity government on May 12, 2019.
However, the government and opposition leaders have extended that deadline twice, most recently on November 7, and have twice failed to make any progress towards a unity government or adequate implementation of the peace agreement.
Consequently, the US recalled its ambassador from South Sudan and said it was “gravely disappointed” and would reevaluate its relationship with South Sudan over the failure of its rival leaders to form a coalition government. The deadline was set on November 12.
Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted, “Called back our Ambassador to #SouthSudan for consultations as we re-evaluate our relationship with the Government of South Sudan. We will work with the region to support efforts to achieve peace and a successful political transition in South Sudan.”
A little over 30 days into the extended pre-transition period, the US says it is yet to see concrete steps by the South Sudanese government to create the political and security conditions conducive to the formation of a unity government and implementation of the peace deal.
The Sentry had welcomed the Treasury’s move.
“These actions by the Treasury Department are a critical signal to the warring parties that the usual obstruction of the peace process is no longer acceptable. The international community should accelerate preparations to dramatically increase the pressure on any spoilers in the event that upcoming negotiations fail to generate progress on the issue of state borders or other contentious questions,” The Sentry co-founder John Prendergast said.
To build more significant leverage ahead of the February deadline, he added, the United States and Europe should use targeted financial measures accompanied by a diplomatic surge to sway the calculations of South Sudanese officials across the political divide.
Brian Adeba, the Deputy Director of Policy at the Enough Project, said officials with decision-making authority across the political divide in South Sudan have been at the forefront of obstructing and undermining the peace process through their uncompromising stance that puts their personal interests before that of the common masses.
“This measure by the Treasury Department chips away at their negative influence and holds the potential to advance the prospects for peace,” he said.