U.S. imposes sanctions on South Sudan officials for perpetuating conflict

 U.S. imposes sanctions on South Sudan officials for perpetuating conflict

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States imposed sanctions on two senior South Sudanese officials it accused of fomenting conflict, the U.S. Treasury Department announced on Monday in its latest move to pressure the country's politicians to form a unity government.

Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro and Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Kuol Manyang Juuk were blacklisted for their role in perpetuating the conflict by obstructing the peace process, Treasury said in a statement.

The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets held by the officials and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

Civil war broke out in oil-producing South Sudan in 2013, less than two years after the country gained independence from Sudan following decades of war. The conflict has killed an estimated 400,000 people, triggered a famine and created Africa's biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The latest sanctions come as Washington is reevaluating its relationship with the African nation after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed in November to give themselves more time to form a unity government.

"We are designating two cabinet-ranking officials in the South Sudanese government for their role in inhibiting political unification, expanding the conflict, and profiting from South Sudan's war economy," Deputy Treasury Secretary Justin Muzinich said in prepared remarks for a speech to non-government organizations (NGOs) and financial institutions on Monday.

Muzinich announced the action at the Partnership to Combat Human Rights Abuse and Corruption, where he said NGOs had provided documented findings that helped support Monday's designations.

Treasury accused Lomuro of recruiting and organizing local militias to attack the opposition forces in South Sudan, and Juuk of failing to remove forces from the battlefield as agreed, stirring up violence with rival tribes and preparing militias for the possibility of renewed violence.

After the devastating five-year civil war, Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal in September 2018 to form the unity government by Nov. 12, under pressure from the United Nations, the United States and regional governments.

Days before the deadline, the two leaders agreed to give themselves an extension of 100 days.

Over 30 days into the extension, the United States has yet to see the government take necessary steps to "create the political and security conditions conducive to formation of a unity government and adequate implementation of the peace deal," Treasury said in the statement.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Matt Spetalnick and Bill Berkrot)

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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2019 00:13:38 IST