US targets South Sudan oil firms with sanctions to cut off war funds

South Sudan is the world’s most oil-dependent country. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on 15 South Sudanese oil operators that it said were important sources of cash for the government, an action aimed at increasing pressure on President Salva Kiir to end the country’s conflict and humanitarian crisis.

The companies and government bodies would in future require special licenses to do business in the United States, the State Department said.

“The South Sudanese Government, and corrupt official actors, use this revenue to purchase weapons and fund irregular militias that undermine the peace, security, and stability of South Sudan,” the department said in a statement.

The groups on the list “are involved in activities that are contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States,” according to a related Department of Commerce document published on Wednesday.

The South Sudanese government was not immediately available to comment.

Washington has already placed sanctions on South Sudanese military and political figures, and in January imposed an arms embargo to halt the flow of weapons into the country, signalling that it had lost patience with South Sudan’s warring factions for ignoring ceasefires.

Last year, the South Sudanese government said it planned to more than double oil production to 290,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2018.

It is the most oil-dependent country in the world, with oil accounting for almost all of its exports and around 60% of gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.

The Department of Commerce’s so-called Entity List does not freeze assets but requires that US and foreign companies doing business with those on the list first obtain a license.

The Commerce Department placed the South Sudan Ministry of Mining, the South Sudan Ministry of Petroleum, state oil firm Nile Petroleum and associated companies, as well as various other oil firms, on its list.

South Sudan has been wracked by civil war since 2013 when troops loyal to Kiir clashed with those loyal to then-Vice President Riek Machar.

Since then, the conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, slashed oil production and driven about a third of the population of 12 million from their homes.