UN Security Council threatens South Sudan sanctions

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The U.N. Security Council could impose sanctions on leaders in South Sudan if gross violations of human rights continue to be carried out, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday during a visit to the country.

Samantha Power said that peace talks must be taken seriously by the government and rebels and that the Security Council has made it very clear it is prepared to impose "consequences" if participants impede the process.

South Sudan descended into massive violence in December, when President Salva Kiir accused his former vice president, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. The violence quickly took on an ethnic dimension between Kiir's Dinkas and Machar's Nuer communities.

The government and rebels agreed earlier this year to the formation of a transitional government by last Sunday. That deadline passed with no agreement, which Power called deeply disappointing.

The Security Council has worrying reports of more arms being brought into the country to set the stage for warfare when the rainy season is over, said Power. In addition to the fighting, a severe hunger crisis is deepening in the country.

"There is a grave risk of famine that now looms, that hangs over this visit. Fifty thousand children under 5 are at risk of dying by malnutrition in the coming months, and around half of this country's population is facing grave food insecurity," Power said. "Moreover, as you all know, the killing is continuing, notwithstanding the fact that a cessation of hostilities has been signed."

More than 1 million people fled their homes and nearly 100,000 still reside in United Nations camps.

Facing immense regional and international political pressure, the two sides have twice agreed to peace deals; neither has held. Power noted that the government and Machar's rebels are still in talks.

Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, reminded journalists at the news conference of a statement agreed to by the Security Council five days ago that said the council is ready to consider targeted sanctions against those who undermine peace in South Sudan.