UNITED NATIONS – The United States is proposing the creation of a U.N. sanctions committee for the South Sudan crisis and says an arms embargo is possible if the warring sides can't stick to a peace deal.
A draft resolution circulated among U.N. Security Council members on Tuesday 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."
The resolution itself wouldn't impose sanctions but would set up the mechanism for doing so.
The United States has threatened further action on the South Sudan conflict for months, beyond its own bilateral sanctions on the country, but some of its Security Council colleagues have pressed for more. Multiple cease-fires in South Sudan have failed, and tens of thousands have died in more than a year of fighting that has had ethnic overtones. Two million people have been displaced.
Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, warned the council Tuesday that "both sides seem to be rearming and preparing for a new military campaign."
"Certainly, we would support an arms embargo," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters earlier Tuesday. He said several diplomats at the council's monthly lunch on Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wanted "a stronger stance by the Security Council towards the leaders who are being so disregarding of the suffering of the people of South Sudan."
The other permanent members of the council, Russia, France and China, did not immediately comment on the U.S. draft.
South Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Francis Deng, told the council Tuesday that it would be "double jeopardy to punish a country that's already suffering.'
The demand for an arms embargo in particular has been rising. In early January, 29 groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to President Barack Obama saying the U.S. should immediately circulate a draft resolution in the Security Council imposing a comprehensive arms embargo.
A report by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey last April found that South Sudan is "saturated with weapons" after the civil war that ended in its independence from Sudan in 2011.
South Sudan's warring sides are now facing a March 5 deadline to reach a decisive peace agreement. Peace talks resumed Monday in Ethiopia, even as violations of a Feb. 1 truce between Kiir and Machar were being reported. The two sides are under pressure by regional mediators to set up a transitional government by July 9.
The U.S. draft resolution says the council would review South Sudan's situation after that March 5 deadline and again after the proposed start of a "pre-transition period" on April 1 and may impose "any sanctions that may then be appropriate to respond to the situation."
Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director of Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that the draft resolution was "long overdue but a very positive step," noting that his group had been calling for an arms embargo for more than a year now.
"Maybe people still had in mind the narrative of a new and hopeful country, even when facts on ground made clear we were way past this," he said.