Envoys from the United Nations Security Council have warned the feuding factions in South Sudan that they will face sanctions if they do not end the civil war they are fighting.
The diplomats from the 15-member council were on a two-day mission in the South Sudanese capital Juba. South Sudan is on the brink of famine following eight months of violence sparked by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar. Thousands have been killed and more than 1.5 million have been displaced.
DW: UN diplomats have sent their strongest message yet to South Sudan threatening the country with sanctions. Is this likely to have any impact?
Peter Schumann: I don't think so. This is not the first time the Security Council has threatened sanctions, or action similar to sanctions. They did it in the past when there was a problem between north and South Sudan. They did it at the start of this most recent violence which began in the middle of December last year. But we have never really seen these threats leading to a practical outcome - we have seen threats that were not followed up, that did not lead to firm action. I think it would be very difficult for the Council to wield sanctions in which they would try to force the government and the opposition to take certain action which they simply do not want to take. The instrument of sanctions in a civil war-type situation has so far never really been successful.
And that is presumably why they are reluctant to impose sanctions?
I agree, because the Council said in an earlier statement it would first want to consult with IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, an eight-nation regional bloc in eastern Africa). Now IGAD has also made a number of strong statements, they have referred to punitive action. The Council has said they would want to consult with IGAD when they are on the ground and see how this could be masterminded in cooperation with IGAD. They don't have much of an option, but I think the Council can only operate through IGAD, through the heads of state and government in the region. This is because they will have to give their consent to whatever kind of sanctions - or punitive action or whatever you wish to call it - the Council may agree to.
UN envoys have also warned that more arms are being brought into South Sudan. Why haven't they imposed an arms embargo - they are the ones to do this?
They can, of course, impose an arms embargo, but it would be very tricky to enforce, especially now with all these soldiers from Uganda in the south, in major parts of the contested south. The situation is rather volatile and unstable. As I said, they could, of course, impose an arms embargo, but they would not be able to enforce it. In addition, I think the government of South Sudan would object to an arms embargo. An arms embargo would then be a one-sided event threatening - or rather imposed on - the rebels - and then you immediately have another problem. So an arms embargo may sound feasible, but I would emphasize once again that in a civil war situation the instrument of sanctions which we would apply on a conflict between states does not really produce any results. We have to be a lot more creative in trying out new things and this is my major criticism of the Security Council. They behave as if this was a conflict between states. This is an internal conflict - between rebel groups - whatever you want to call them - but it is an internal conflict in which the government will always look to the Council for support. I don't see President Salva Kiir and his leadership, his group of military leaders, ever agreeing to sanctions, or arms embargos, or instruments like this.
Talking of Salva Kiir, he reportedly said that the conflict cannot be solved militarily, but his actions on the ground speak otherwise, don't they?
Absolutely. Salva Kiir has lost a lot of credibility. He says one thing but then his spokesmen - through their actions and what they say - contradict him. I have the impression that he is not really in charge. There are a group of people who are pulling in different directions and I have the impression that they are still pursuing the military option with far greater vigor than the political solution.
Why then is it so difficult for these two principal figure to just sit down and solve this crisis? It has been dragging on for months.
Both of them still believe that a military victory is possible. Look at the statement that came out after Riek Machar visited Khartoum. He was requesting that Khartoum block the oil pipeline and he is suggesting that Kenya should not allow South Sudan to use the port of Mombasa. This basically means they are still toying with the military option. I don't think Salava Kiir is serious about a political solution. He still seems to believe that with support from the Uganda and the remnants of the SPLA he could resolve this militarily and force the SPLM in opposition into a situation where they have to negotiate. I think there is a miscalculation on both sides.
Peter Schumann is a former director of the UN mission in Sudan
Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu