UNITED NATIONS — The United States warned leaders in South Sudan on Thursday that they risk losing U.S. support if they don’t participate in a high-level forum and stick to deadlines for a cease-fire and political process to end their civil war.
U.S. deputy ambassador Michele Sison said the Revitalization Forum being organized by the regional group IGAD is “the last chance” for salvaging the August 2015 peace agreement.
“The United States expects that it will lead to a realistic and meaningful outcome,” Sison said. “If South Sudan’s leaders do not participate in this high-level forum in good faith and stick to its deadlines, the United States will need to review our position and priorities on support for the peace agreement and its implementing bodies.”
For the United States, Sison said, “the bottom line is that we want this regional mediation to succeed, and we need to see South Sudan’s leaders engaged in it, at long last.”
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 December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.
The 2015 peace agreement has not stopped the fighting, and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping El Ghassim Wane told the council Thursday that “the security environment remains extremely volatile and South Sudan is in need of an effective and credible cease-fire.”
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced 3.5 million to flee their homes.
Sison said the Security Council has listened to promises from South Sudan’s leaders “that they will finally get serious about pursuing peace” but nothing has changed and people continue to flee the fighting.
“This council needs to hold the parties on the ground accountable for their broken promises,” she said.
Sison recalled that in March the council demanded an end to fighting, commitment to a political process and unfettered access to millions in need of humanitarian assistance “but virtually none of these steps happened.”
To pressure the parties to take action, Sison urged the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions on individuals blocking peace and an arms embargo.
In late April, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley also urged the council to impose an arms embargo and additional sanctions on South Sudan to pressure the parties to end the civil war in the world’s newest nation — but Russia and China remain opposed.
A U.S.-led effort to impose an arms embargo last December failed, with only seven of the 15 council members supporting the resolution. The other eight abstained.
Former Botswana President Festus Mogae, who chairs the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission which is overseeing peace efforts in South Sudan, told the council via a video link from Juba that he has engaged local and regional leaders including Machar, who is now living in South Africa.
“The message I conveyed to Dr. Riek Machar was to renounce violence, declare a unilateral cease-fire and participate in the national dialogue,” Mogae said, referring to President Kiir’s initiative to try to reconcile all grievances of South Sudan’s political and armed groups.
“He declined to do so,” Mogae said of Machar. “However, he demanded a new political process by the region outside South Sudan.”