The U.S. State Department announced Friday it would immediately enact restrictions on arms transfers to South Sudan.
Paul Sutphin, the State Department’s senior adviser on Sudan and South Sudan, said the decision will “restrict the flow of lethal material into South Sudan for all parties” and is part of a series of steps “to impose consequences on those who use violence to advance a political agenda.”
The restriction is enacted through the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a set of U.S. laws that regulate the export and import of defense related articles and services.
“This is an action we can take with our law for people who require licenses from the United States to sell arms and material,” said Sutphin.
Companies and entities seeking a license to export defense materials to South Sudan will be denied under the new restrictions. This includes “American manufacturers or a company that uses American parts that are controlled under the ITAR,” said Sutphin.
U.S. law requires companies, entities or manufacturers seeking to export controlled products to register with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, an office in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the Department of State.
The law also requires an approval of an export license for all exports of a U.S.-controlled defense article or service, according to a State Department official.
The U.S. arms restriction is limited to U.S. jurisdiction, and will not directly affect weapons flows from neighboring countries.
The U.N. secretary-general's special adviser for the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus this week that weapons are flowing into South Sudan through neighboring countries, including Kenya and Uganda.
The State Department hopes the U.S. trade restriction will encourage others, including the African Union and the regional bloc IGAD, to take similar measures.
“We need to impose consequences to those parties including the government, including the main armed opposition groups who have violated their commitment to stop fighting multiple times since they signed it,” said Sutphin.
United States officials under then-President Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump have argued that a United Nations led arms embargo could stem the flow of weapons into South Sudan. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council last week an arms embargo could “slow the violence, slow the flow of arms and ammunition,” to South Sudan.
A U.S.-led resolution to impose additional sanctions and an arms embargo on South Sudan failed at the U.N. Security Council in December 2016.
The move was backed by seven of the 15 Security Council members, including Britain and France, but received eight abstentions, including one from Russia, whose top U.N. ambassador argued an embargo would not stabilize the country.
The U.S. arms restriction comes ahead of the second phase of the IGAD-led High Level Revitalization Forum, a peace initiative that is intended to revive the 2015 peace deal.
Sutphin, who will be at the talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, says he hopes the arms restriction will send a clear message to the warring parties, who have repeatedly violated cease-fire agreements since conflict erupted in December 2013.
“Issue No. 1 has to be taking the cessation of hostilities and really making it work,” said Sutphin. “Stopping the suffering and violence that have wracked South Sudan and have injured and killed so many people there.
Round 2 of South Sudan Peace Talks Set to Open Monday
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN —
South Sudan's warring parties are preparing for a second round of talks next week, aimed at revitalizing a 2015 peace deal between the government and rebel forces. The initiative, known as the High-Level Revitalization Forum, takes place February 5-16 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The talks are expected to cover security and governance structures for South Sudan, the world's newest country.
Ahead of the discussions, an umbrella group of more than 20 civil society activists is calling on all parties to order their forces to adhere to a Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed in December in the first phase of the initiative.
The South Sudan Civil Society Forum wants those involved to release all political prisoners, prisoners of war, and child soldiers and issue directives to field commanders to "cease all hostilities and refrain from any unauthorized movement of forces."
Rajab Mohandis, executive director of the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections, or SSuNDE, said South Sudanese were disappointed to see the agreement being violated by the warring parties just days after it was signed. But he said progress has been made in recent days.
"We have been monitoring the implementation of the cessation of hostilities closer, " he told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program. "In the past one week, the country has been largely silent and that is positive and the citizens should remain hopeful."
Mohandis said civil society activists are urging the parties to do more to ensure that their forces strictly abide by the terms of the agreement and hold to account individuals who violate the cease-fire. The activists are also calling on the government to retract recent comments declaring that non-governmental organizations need not report violations.
"When there is fighting in any part of this country, we don't take permission from them to run away from the violence," said Mohandis. "We also do not need permission to speak on these issues as long as we have credible information."
South Sudan Cabinet Affairs Minister Marti Elia Lomuro recently warned NGOs against reporting cease-fire violations. Mohandis countered that NGOs should not be restricted because they are contributing to efforts to restore peace. He said civil society activists are helping the voiceless who cannot come to the table in Addis Ababa.
The activists say the High Level Revitalization Forum risks joining the long list of failed peace processes in South Sudan's history if the parties simply replicate past models, most of which focused on power sharing.
Mohandis said the South Sudan Civil Society Forum developed principles to ensure that decisions about governance and security arrangements will serve the interests of the nation's people.
"Decision making processes and institutions should be representative of the South Sudanese public," he added. "There should be integrity and good faith by the parties. This process should be geared toward nation-building and national identity that will unify the people of South Sudan."
Mohandis said as the warring parties return to the negotiating table in Addis, South Sudanese must take ownership of the political process and ensure that all efforts contribute to lasting peace.
"To the mediators, we want to remind them that the people of South Sudan do not want to continue in war again; the ordinary citizens, who are bearing the cost of this violence," he said. "And so the role of the mediators should be to help the parties to the conflict reach an agreement."
The forum is being organized by regional trade bloc IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
South Sudan's civil war has displaced some 4 million people and created a humanitarian crisis. The internal conflict began in 2013 as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, former first vice president Riek Machar. The war has driven 2 million people from the country and left more than a million others a step away from famine, according to the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned countries of the IGAD bloc against taking sides in South Sudan's internal affairs.