On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three major South Sudanese leaders for their alleged involvement in the ongoing civil strife in the country.
Those sanctioned include the Deputy Chief of Defense Staff Lieutenant General Malek Reuben Riak, General Paul Malong, and Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth. Three companies linked to these officials were also placed on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List.
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The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) also issued an advisory to financial institutions to conduct further investigations on the three individuals and file additional suspicious activity reports that can warrant further action.
The officials, who are said to be close allies of the embattled South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, were adversely mentioned in a recent investigative report by The Sentry as having looted their country’s resources and hiding their ill-gotten wealth in offshore accounts.
They were also accused of actively participating in the ongoing conflict, which has left thousands of people dead and millions displaced.
When Will There Be Peace?
The radical actions taken by the U.S. government are aimed at persuading South Sudanese leaders to expedite the process of restoring peace in the world’s youngest nation.
In the statement, the Treasury Department said the sanctions were in response to the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country and the direct and indirect role of the officials in undermining peace and stability.
“These actions send a clear message to those enriching themselves at the expense of the South Sudanese people that we will not let them exploit the U.S. financial system to move and hide the proceeds of their corruption,” said Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The sanctions come a few days after President Kiir held a meeting in the capital Juba with the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Mark Green, who reportedly expressed his concerns over the continuing civil strife in the country.
While the people of South Sudan have applauded the sanctions, some experts are skeptical about their usefulness in restoring peace, arguing that previous sanctions, like the ones issued by President Barack Obama in 2014, have had little impact on the situation.
Efforts by other donor countries and the United Nations to strike a peace deal between the warring factions have also not borne any fruit.
Since December 2013, forces allied to President Kiir on one side and his former deputy Riek Machar on the other have been engaging in deadly warfare, including massive atrocities like the 2014 Bentiu massacre. Some reports indicate that more than 300,000 people have so far died in the conflict.
The fighting started when President Kiir fired the then vice-president Machar over claims of plotting a coup against the government. Machar has repeatedly denied these allegations and accuses Kiir of dictatorship.
The two leaders have met severally in an effort to end the war but both sides end up flouting the ceasefire agreements. All eyes are now on the international community, which has been working round the clock to end the stalemate.