South Sudan’s warring factions may face more international pressure to end their conflict if they do not reach a peace deal by August 17, US President Barack Obama has said.
Mr Obama spoke on Monday in Addis Ababa when he met regional African leaders to discuss the conflict.
The civil war flared up in December 2013, pitting troops loyal to President Salva Kiir against rebels commanded by Riek Machar, his former deputy.
A US official said sanctions or other penalties could be considered if the two sides fail to reach a peace deal by the August deadline.
The warring parties have ignored previous deadlines, deepening the crisis in the world’s youngest nation.
“If we don’t see a breakthrough by the 17th, then we have to consider what other tools we have to apply greater pressure on the parties,” Mr Obama told a news conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who has hosted peace talks.
The United States and European Union have already imposed sanctions on individual commanders from both sides.
Freeze on assets
Further sanctions could include a freeze on individuals commanders and leaders’ assets and travel restrictions. Sanctions could be implemented jointly with other countries in the region, the European Union, or the United Nations.
Mr Obama was also expected to address the African Union in Addis Ababa.
Mr Obama acknowledged efforts to end the conflict by Igad, a regional African grouping that has mediated and which includes Ethiopia, but said “the situation continues to deteriorate.”
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) bloc had set an August 17 deadline for President Salva Kiir, and opposition leader Riek Machar to accept a final offer.
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Fighting in the country, which broke out in December 2013, has so far killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2.2 million others.
Mr Hailemariam recognised that negotiations had rumbled along for a long time. “The people are suffering on the ground and we cannot let this go on,” he said, adding that yesterday’s meeting with regional leaders should send a “strong signal” to the rivals.
Igad states threatened sanctions in the past but did not act on them and more recently said such steps would not help.
Western diplomats have pressed the region to put more pressure on the South Sudanese for a deal, saying regional measures were more likely to have an impact on leaders.
The US, Britain and Norway were among the main Western states that sponsored South Sudan when it seceded in 2011 from Sudan. The southerners had fought Sudan’s government for decades, but had also often battled each other.
Those at the talks also included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibarahim Ghandour and the African Union’s Dlamini Zuma.