S. Sudan suspends peace talks despite sanctions threat
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South Sudan's government said Friday it was pulling out of peace talks to end a 20-month-long civil war after rebel forces split despite international threats of sanctions.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a war marked by widespread atrocities on both sides, and diplomats warned the collapse of the latest peace efforts could trigger "serious consequences" for the rival leaders.
"We suspend the peace talks until the two rebel factions sort out their differences," top government official Louis Lobong said, after meetings with President Salva Kiir.
South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
Regional mediators, backed by US President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Ethiopia, gave Kiir and Machar until August 17 to halt the civil war.
On Tuesday however, top rebel generals said they had split from Machar, accusing him of seeking power for himself, and adding they would not recognise any deal agreed.
Obama has warned Kiir and Machar that if they failed to strike a deal the US will "move forward with a different plan, and recognize that those leaders are incapable of creating the peace that is required."
Massacres and rape
The war has been characterised by ethnic massacres and rape. Recent attacks have included castration, burning people alive and tying children together before slitting their throats.
Over 70 percent of the country's 12 million people need assistance, while 2.2 million people have fled their homes the UN says, with areas on the brink of famine.
Possible punitive measures could include an arms embargo and targeted sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes.
The latest round of talks opened on August 6, mediated by the regional eight-nation bloc IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, as well as the United Nations, African Union, China and the "troika" of Britain, Norway and the United States.
Envoys have said international patience has run out.
"Everything is on the table: arms embargo, sanctions targeting not only the military but also the political level, and an intervention force," one diplomat in Addis Ababa said.
"It is hard to understand the leaders' ambivalence for the suffering of their people," another diplomat said.
But others warned sanctions might have little impact. The UN last month blacklisted six commanders -- three generals from each side -- but that has apparently had little impact on the war.
'Time to hide their money'
"They have been warned about sanctions for the last four months," said Berouk Mesfin from the Institute for Security Studies think tank in Ethiopia.
"Don't you think they've had the time to prepare and hide their money? The borders are porous and they have enough weapons at their disposal."
Lobong, governor of Eastern Equatoria, one the country's 10 states, dismissed the threat of sanctions.
"In peace talks, you don't give condition, you don't give intimidation," he told reporters, warning to do so would lead to "an agreement that will not last."
During previous peace talks held in luxury Ethiopian hotels, Kiir, Machar and their entourages have run up millions of dollars in expenses while failing to sign a single lasting agreement.
At least seven ceasefires have been agreed and then broken within days, if not hours.
"Bringing about peace is a process, requires time and is expensive - and it is better to go slowly but surely, rather than rush and sign a peace that will create problems," Lobong added.