The international community must concentrate on preventing a humanitarian disaster in South Sudan, but the political crisis must also be addressed, Peter Schumann, a former UN coordinator in southern Sudan, warns.

DW: After days of fighting in South Sudan, both government and rebels are claiming that they are in control of the town of Malakal. Peace talks set to resume in Addis Ababa on Thursday (20.03.2014) failed to materialize. But the United Nations is turning its attention to South Sudan this week, with its head of peacekeeping urging the two sides to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement they signed two months ago. Peter Schumann, as a former UN coordinator in southern Sudan, how do you see the UN responding to this apparent unwillingness of both sides to sit down and talk?

Peter Schumann: Three months into the conflict not much has changed. We have the cessation of hostilities agreement you referred to, which is violated more often than it is adhered to - not surprisingly, because we don't have the mechanisms with which to monitor compliance with the agreement. That is still under negotiation. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has not yet been able to set up the monitoring system. There are debates about the protection of the monitors. The usual technicalities need to be put in place. So far, it has been a major failure on the part of the international community to come to a quick intervention, to take quick action to address the crisis. In my view the crisis is escalating. We're not seeing any respite. As you have pointed out, the fighting continues. Malakal is changing hands. It will change hands again. Other towns are under threat. We're seeing a pattern re-emerge, and we know from the civil war that the government controls the towns; the rebels are operating in the villages, in the rural areas.

Some people have been mentioning the possibility of sanctions against South Sudan. Envoys have been saying that both the United States and the European Union were considering targeted measures against individuals. Is that likely?

Even if these measures are put in place, it won't have much of an effect, as we have seen with sanctions in the North, in Khartoum. I don't think that the perpetrators of violence in South Sudan will depend on the ability of traveling abroad or using bank accounts, or things like that. So I think targeted sanctions against individuals will not have an immediate effect, and maybe not even a long-term effect. I don't think that this is the right way to address the crisis. What is needed much more is a coherent approach between the United Nations, between the regional organizations, IGAD and the African Union.


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