UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday creating a system to impose sanctions on those blocking peace in South Sudan, hoping it will press rival leaders into ending a conflict that has killed tens of thousands in the world's newest country.
The resolution drafted by the United States says an arms embargo is possible if the warring sides can't stick to a peace deal. Talks between the government and rebels continue this week in Ethiopia, with a Thursday deadline to reach a decisive peace agreement.
"Those who frustrate peace must begin to pay the price," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said.
The resolution doesn't explicitly name South Sudan President Salva Kiir or rebel leader Riek Machar as possible targets for sanctions that would include an asset freeze and travel ban, but it says people affected could include "leaders of any entity."
Multiple cease-fires in South Sudan have failed during more than a year of fighting that has had ethnic overtones. Two million people have been displaced.
South Sudan's rebels on Tuesday warned that the latest peace talks could fail if the government does not make concessions, especially on the issue of how to share power in a possible unity government. Kiir arrived in Ethiopia early Tuesday to attend direct talks with Machar.
The resolution comes after months of threats by the U.S. and others to impose sanctions over the conflict, though some countries had wanted more support for the idea from regional actors such as the African Union. As time passed, international calls for action grew.
The U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, welcomed Tuesday's approval after months of hesitation but said, "The elephant in the room is the long overdue arms embargo, sadly absent from this resolution."
Monitoring groups have described South Sudan as being awash in weapons after its long fight to split from Sudan ended in its independence in 2011.
South Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Francis Deng, quickly warned the council that sanctions would be counterproductive, especially as the country's people suffer. "What the president and the government of South Sudan need is encouragement and support, not condemnation," he said.
Deng said he hoped the council will not actually impose sanctions.
Russia's support was grudging at best. Deputy Permanent Representative Petr Iliichev said the decision to impose sanctions was hasty and that any negative effects of Tuesday's action should be blamed on those who pushed the resolution in spite of Russia's warnings.
"Pushing the protagonists into a corner will not change anything" and will further complicate the peace process, he said.
China's ambassador spoke out Friday against the resolution, saying he saw no logic in it, but Liu Jieyi on Tuesday simply expressed his hope that the warring sides would quickly reach a compromise. China's interest is focused on South Sudan's oil production.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement Tuesday night urged Kiir and Machar to show leadership and "make the necessary compromises" for a power-sharing agreement that would help end the conflict.