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Divided UN renews South Sudan arms embargo

The UN Security Council on Thursday extended for a year an arms embargo and sanctions on South Sudan despite resistance from African countries, Russia and China.

A US-drafted resolution was adopted by a vote of 10 in favour with five abstentions. Resolutions in the 15-member council require a minimum of nine votes for adoption.

The measure renews until May 31, 2020 an arms embargo on South Sudan along with an assets freeze and global travel ban slapped on eight South Sudanese nationals for their role in fuelling the war.

The United States sharply criticized the three African countries on the council—Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast and South Africa—for refusing to support continued sanctions on South Sudan.

US acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen expressed regret that the African countries had shown “an unwillingness to stop the flow of weapons to one of the continent’s deadliest civil conflicts.”

Diplomatic victory

The United States scored a diplomatic victory when it persuaded the council last year to back an arms embargo on South Sudan, which has been torn by war since 2013.

Under a Khartoum-mediated peace deal signed in September, President Salva Kiir agreed to set up a unity government with longtime rival Riek Machar, who is to return from exile.

The new government was initially scheduled to take office on May 12 but that provision was postponed for six months.

South Africa told the council that while progress in implementing the peace deal had been slow, sanctions would not be useful to push the sides toward agreement.

Ambassador Jerry Matjila said South Africa held the “firm view that sanctions imposed on South Sudan at this time are not helpful to the current complex political process.”

Peace deals

Regional countries have for years been pushing leaders in South Sudan to abide by a series of ceasefires and peace deals.

A previous peace agreement fell apart when heavy fighting broke out in Juba in July 2016 following the return of Machar, who was forced to flee on foot, chased by tanks and helicopter gunships.

Russia and China, which abstained in the vote last year to impose the arms embargo, made clear their positions had not changed, but they did not veto the resolution.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said the situation in South Sudan was “steadily stabilizing” and rejected the US view that the arms embargo helped bring about the latest peace deal.

“Sanctions did not play a role but rather regional mediators,” said Polyanskiy.

The war has killed tens of thousands, uprooted more than one third of South Sudan’s 12 million people and has seen horrific levels of sexual violence along with brutal attacks on civilians.

“Renewing the arms embargo on South Sudan is the right step towards ending illegal attacks on men, women and children in a war where civilians have been the main victims of the violence,” said Joyce Bukuru from Human Rights Watch.

By The Eastafrican

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