UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council urgently called Friday for South Sudan's feuding political leaders to resolve a mounting crisis and threatened targeted sanctions against those who thwart peace efforts.
A presidential statement approved by all 15 council members pressed President Salva Kiir and former vice president and current rebel leader Riek Machar to implement a cease-fire and form a transitional government by Sunday.
The statement didn't name potential targets of sanctions but cited "those who take action that undermines the peace, stability, and security of South Sudan, including those who prevent the implementation of these agreements."
The Security Council, which plans to visit South Sudan next week, also warned that a "catastrophic" lack of food could lead to famine.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power welcomed "the strong and unified message" from the council, especially the threat of sanctions.
"I think this showed the strength of conviction and intention that we haven't previously seen from the council as we work to encourage peace in South Sudan and to stem the burgeoning humanitarian crisis in a country where nearly four million people are at the brink of famine ... including 50,000 kids who are at risk of dying," Power told reporters.
The crisis stems in part from when Kiir accused Machar in December of trying to oust him in a coup, which unleashed months of ethnic attacks and failed cease-fires.
This week, the East African organization leading the latest peace talks said that rebels were a no-show on the second day of negotiations.
In recent days, an outbreak of violence has occurred along the Sudan-South Sudan border, and at least six South Sudanese aid workers were killed by a militia hunting the Nuer ethnic group. All of the murdered aid workers are members of the Nuer, to which Machar belongs. Kiir is a member of the rival Dinka ethnic group.
The Security Council expressed "grave alarm" at the substantial deterioration in the political and security situation and developing humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the dispute between Kiir and Machar and the unrelenting violence.
Some observers believe the violence threatens to pull Sudan and its rebel groups into South Sudan's civil war.
South Sudan is a largely Christian nation that broke off from Muslim-dominated Sudan after a 2011 referendum.