In his first major speech since talks to end 15 months of conflict in South Sudan stalled earlier this month, President Salva Kiir warned Wednesday that the nation's economy would be shattered by international sanctions.
"While I very much appreciate the efforts of the international community to bring peace, I am disappointed in the mobilization by some members of the international community to impose sanctions, rather than encouraging peace-building processes after failure to meet the deadline of March 5," Mr. Kiir told a rally of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party.
"My concern is that sanctions at this time will not only devastate the economy, but increase economic pressures on people who are already suffering and are desperate," he said.
Just days before the deadline set by East African mediators for Mr. Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar to make peace, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to establish the legal framework required for sanctions. It is still unclear if and when the U.N. will actually impose those sanctions, which are targeted at individuals and entities that are preventing an end to the violence that has killed thousands in South Sudan and displaced two million people.
Mr. Kiir acknowledged in his speech that South Sudanese have been hit hard by the ailing economy. The fighting and falling crude prices have hobbled South Sudan's oil industry, the young nation's economic lifeline.
But, Mr. Kiir cautioned, "Even if we were to sign peace today, the economic conditions in our country would not improve automatically, because it will take some years to reach the level of oil production before the war."
The president blamed the failure to reach a peace deal at the most recent round of talks in Addis Ababa on Machar's "intransigence" and said the rebel leader's "ever-shifting positions have been a real challenge to attaining peace."
Even as he accused the rebels of only being "interested in negotiating themselves back to power," Mr. Kiir trumpeted his government's commitment to restoring peace in South Sudan, saying it has "done everything possible to protect the gains of our liberation struggle and end the war."
Hundreds of South Sudanese attended the rally, along with several foreign diplomats, including U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Charles Twining.