JOHANNESBURG — The United States said Friday it has sanctioned three people over their roles in South Sudan’s five-year civil war, saying it will continue to target those who “profit off the misery and suffering of the South Sudanese people.”
A Treasury statement named the three as retired Israeli military official Israel Ziv and South Sudanese businessman Obac William Olawo, for leading entities whose actions have extended the conflict, and South Sudanese official Gregory Vasili, “for actions that have undermined peace, stability, and security.”
The U.S. also designated six entities owned or controlled by Ziv and Olawo.
There was no immediate response from South Sudan's government, which has bristled at rising U.S. criticism and pressure, including the threat to withdraw aid.
The U.S. is reviewing its assistance to the country, National Security Advisor John Bolton said Thursday.
The statement said the U.S. is targeting people who have “provided soldiers, armored vehicles, and weapons used to fuel the conflict.” Washington has expressed growing exasperation over South Sudan and those it says are blocking the path to peace. It led efforts in the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country earlier this year.
The civil war has killed nearly 400,000 people. The sanctions were announced a day before the devastated East African nation marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the fighting. The warring sides signed a new peace deal in September, though fighting and abuses continue in some areas.
The U.S. statement said Ziv, a retired Israeli Defense Forces major general, supplied arms and ammunition to both sides in the civil war. It said he used an agricultural company as a front to sell "approximately $150 million worth of weapons to the government, including rifles, grenade launchers, and shoulder-fired rockets."
Vasili, the U.S. said, "oversaw an explosion of intra-clan ethnic violence" and led a militia as governor of Gogrial state until the government removed him late last year.
Olawo, the U.S. said, "routinely imported standard and armored vehicles for the government of South Sudan, and as of mid-2018 was engaged in the trade and shipment of arms."
Watchdog group The Sentry quickly praised the U.S. move.
“Today’s sanctions clearly show the intersection between corruption and armed conflict in South Sudan,” said Joshua White, the group’s director of policy and analysis, in a statement. “We need more of these designations to chip away at the violent kleptocracy.”
Associated Press writer Sam Mednick contributed.