Secretary of State John Kerry starts a five-day visit to Africa today with a focus on security that includes reining in the conflict in South Sudan.
Kerry at a meeting today in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, agreed with East African foreign ministers that a peacekeeping force must be swiftly deployed in South Sudan.
“A legitimate force, that has the ability to make peace, needs to be on the ground as soon as possible,” Kerry told reporters. The Ethiopian, Ugandan and Kenyan foreign ministers said they must work out the details on the “timing, manner and size” of the force, said Kerry.
Violence has roiled South Sudan, the world’s newest country, since December when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar and other leaders of staging a coup, a charge they deny.
The conflict has taken on an ethnic dimension, stoking grievances between Kiir’s Dinka tribe and Machar’s Nuer group. The fighting has left thousands of people dead and displaced more than a million. Both sides have flouted a cease-fire signed in January, according to United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous.
President Barack Obama has prepared an executive order that would allow for sanctions against individuals in South Sudan whose U.S. assets could be frozen and whose travel there would be barred. A U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record, said a list of individual names was being discussed and could include Kiir and Machar.
Kerry, whose trip will also take him to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, will be working to persuade South Sudan’s neighbors to apply sanctions as well. Without regional support on sanctions, the official acknowledged that any U.S. move to punish South Sudanese leaders will be less effective.
Kerry will also meet today with African Union leaders to focus on security issues in sub-Saharan Africa, including finding further steps to ease long-standing conflict in Congo and in the Central African Republic.
Kerry’s African Union meeting, the fourth high level dialogue with the continental body, will also touch on issues of governance, corruption and development, said the U.S. official, who is traveling with Kerry. While Kerry’s strong focus on the trip is peace and security issues, he will also emphasize the importance of human rights and freedoms.
Throughout, Kerry will be working on arrangements for the first U.S.-Africa leaders’ summit, which Obama has planned for August.