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U.S. slaps arms embargo on South Sudan, urges UN to do same

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is imposing a U.S. arms embargo on civil war-torn South Sudan while urging the United Nations and other countries to do the same.

The State Department said Friday the U.S. is restricting all sales of defense equipment and services to all parties to South Sudan’s conflict, saying it is “appalled” by the continuing violence that has defied a cease-fire. It’s mostly symbolic since the U.S. has almost no defense trade with the East African country in the first place.

The United States is also calling on South Sudan’s neighbors to implement similar arms restrictions and urging the U.N. Security Council to support a global embargo on the country. “The message must be clear – the United States, the region and the international community will not stand idly by as innocent South Sudanese civilians are murdered,” the statement said.

South Sudan government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny had no immediate comment, telling The Associated Press that the Cabinet was meeting to come up with “an appropriate response.”

Late last month, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley announced that the United States had given up on South Sudan’s leader after investing more than $11 billion in the country, and she called President Salva Kiir an “unfit partner” in the pursuit of peace.

South Sudan’s leaders aren’t just failing the country, “they are betraying them,” Haley said.

Untold tens of thousands of people have been killed in the civil war that erupted in December 2013 after tensions between supporters of Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his deputy Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer. Machar is now in exile. The U.N. and others have warned of ethnic violence, the recruitment of thousands of child soldiers and the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war.

The number of South Sudanese refugees could reach 3 million by the end of this year, Africa’s largest refugee crisis since Rwanda’s genocide in 1994, the U.N. said Thursday.

The United States in the last days of the Obama administration tried and failed to have the U.N. Security Council impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, to the disappointment of arms researchers and rights groups who say the country is awash in weapons.

Haley has urged the council to impose an embargo, but Russia and China remain opposed. Russia has said it would only worsen the situation and China has said the U.N.’s most powerful body should send out more “positive and enthusiastic messages.”

The world’s youngest country won independence from Sudan in 2011, and later that year the U.S. clarified that its arms embargo on Sudan didn’t apply to the new nation. Global optimism for South Sudan eventually faded as its leaders turned against each other.

Frustration with South Sudan’s government and rebels has been rising. The latest cease-fire, which went into effect Dec. 24, was violated within hours. Both sides have been accused of restricting the delivery of aid to millions across the impoverished country, including an estimated 1.5 million people near famine.

The U.N. secretary-general last month warned of the imposition of “consequences.” This week the African Union joined the calls for further sanctions on those blocking the path to peace.

A new round of peace talks, brokered by a regional bloc, is set to begin Monday in neighboring Ethiopia with discussions of, among other things, a permanent cease-fire.

Anna reported from Johannesburg.

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