By Okech Francis
JUBA (AA) – The European Union on Monday declared an arms embargo on South Sudan, which has been embroiled in an armed conflict since last December.
"EU foreign affairs ministers met today to demonstrate their unwavering resolve and commitment to South Sudan and its people and to call for tougher action by the international community as a whole to press all sides in the conflict to pursue the path of peaceful negotiation in the primary interest of the South Sudanese population," Stefano De Leo, head of the EU Delegation to South Sudan, told reporters in Juba.
"The EU has imposed an arms embargo and invited all key international partners to consider this step," he said.
"It has called for measures to ensure that the wealth of the country is being used for the benefit of the South Sudanese people rather than to stockpile weapons of war," De Leo added.
The EU, he went on, "has also expressed its readiness to consider further targeted restrictive measures against those individuals obstructing peace in South Sudan."
The fledgling country descended into chaos exactly one year ago following a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
Full-blown armed conflict erupted on December 15 of last year, which President Salva Kiir was quick to portray as a coup attempt by Riek Machar, his sacked vice-president, and the latter's supporters.
The epicenter of the crisis quickly shifted to South Sudan's Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states, where it has continued to simmer, claiming tens of thousands of lives and displacing nearly two million people.
The conflict has also left about four million people at risk of food insecurity, according to humanitarian agencies.
In recent months, the warring camps have held on-again, off-again peace talks in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional bloc based in Djibouti.
Up until this point, however, the talks have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
De Leo said that, despite a year of negotiations under IGAD mediation, the warring parties had failed to conclude any meaningful political agreement, while citizens continued to live amid mounting insecurity.
"Both sides have undermined the [peace] process by failing to honor their commitments and excluding others from negotiations while continuing hostilities on the ground," he added.
"It is high time they [the leaders of the two sides] lived up to this responsibility and ushered in a new period of peace and prosperity," De Leo asserted.
"The patience of the international community is running low," he warned.
The EU official insisted that, while people were marking the one-year anniversary of "this disastrous conflict," there was "little reason for optimism."
"This devastating conflict is causing immense human suffering and has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, the displacement of two million people, and appalling violations of international humanitarian law and human rights," he declared.
De Leo added: "The leaders on both sides have a responsibility for the conflict – and the power to stop it in the interest of their people."