East African nations have told South Sudan’s government and rebels to immediately halt their nearly 11-month-old civil war or else face sanctions and even a regional intervention.
The warning was issued in the early hours of Saturday by the regional bloc IGAD after the latest direct talks between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar failed to result in a peace deal.
IGAD has now given the pair 15 days to finalise a power-sharing agreement, but said both sides had pledged after two days of negotiations in Addis Ababa to an “unconditional, complete and immediate end to all hostilities”.
“Any violation of the cessation of the hostilities by any party will invite… collective action by the IGAD region,” a statement said, listing asset freezes, travel bans and an arms embargo as possible sanctions.
“The IGAD region shall, without further reference to the warring parties, take the necessary measures to directly intervene in South Sudan to protect life and restore peace,” the statement added.
War broke out in December last year, when Kiir accused his sacked deputy Machar of trying to stage a coup, with the violence broadening into an ethnic conflict and now including more than 20 different armed groups.
The UN Security Council also warned this week of possible sanctions over the fighting, which has left tens of thousands dead and forced almost two million from their homes.
Regional leaders have grown increasingly impatient with the warring sides, their slow-moving talks and repeated violations of several prior ceasefire deals.
Recent weeks have seen an upsurge in fighting coinciding with the end of the rainy season, and there have been heavy clashes in several areas — in particular around the northern oil hub of Bentiu.
IGAD, an East Africa and Horn of Africa trade bloc, groups Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The bloc has been trying to broker peace in South Sudan since January.