US sanctions South Sudan’s vice president over abuses

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The United States (US) imposed sanctions on South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, citing his involvement in serious human rights abuses.

It is one of the sharpest actions taken by the US against South Sudan’s government amid Washington’s frustration over the country’s failure to achieve a stable peace after its civil war. The Treasury Department statement asserted that Deng was involved in the disappearance and deaths of human rights lawyer Samuel Dong Luak and opposition member Aggrey Idry in 2017.

It also asserted that he has acted to divide the armed opposition in South Sudan, extending the country’s five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.

In a response to the US announcement, the press secretary for Deng, Agel Machar, told The Associated Press the sanctions “are as unfortunate as they are misplaced,” noting his former role as chief peace negotiator for the armed opposition.

Deng also has willingly accepted to step aside from his role as first vice president for the sake of peace, the press secretary said, to make way for opposition leader Riek Machar.

The US is among the countries pressuring Machar and President Salva Kiir to form a coalition government with Machar as deputy. A deadline for that looms next month after the parties failed to make one last November.

The US has been increasingly frustrated by the inability of Kiir and Machar to reach a lasting peace. Meanwhile, the government faces widespread accusations by critics of mismanagement and corruption.

“Today’s action represents a significant and important ratcheting up of US financial pressure designed to break the impasse in South Sudan and hold those impeding peace accountable,” Co-Founder of The Sentry John Prendergast, said in a statement. The Washington-based investigative group has often reported on alleged corruption by South Sudanese officials.

Photo shows South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng Gai speaking to the media after being sworn in at the presidential palace in Juba, South Sudan. PHOTO: AP