WASHINGTON (CN) - Amid reports of widespread violence and displacement, President Barack Obama issued an executive order authorizing U.S. sanctions against anyone who threatens the security of South Sudan.
The world's newest country, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 following decades of civil war.
Last week, the United Nations said nearly one-third of South Sudan's total population is at a severe risk of starvation and that the country urgently needs $230 million in aid money to prevent an imminent famine.
In recent months, violent clashes between rebels and military have broken out in South Sudan after President Salva Kiir said he foiled a coup orchestrated by soldiers loyal to the country's former vice president Riek Machar.
The government and the rebels reached a ceasefire agreement in January, but fighting has sporadically continued.
Nearly one million people have been displaced and thousands have been killed, humanitarian groups say.
In an order last week, President Obama authorized sanctions against people or entities that "threaten the peace, security, or stability of South Sudan."
"Both the government of South Sudan and Riek Machar's rebels must immediately engage in and follow through on the inclusive peace process...and resolve this conflict," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "They must end military actions and hold accountable those responsible for violence against civilians."
The president named a number of sanctionable offenses, such as the recruitment of child soldiers, attacks on civilians, and other violations of international humanitarian laws.
People or groups who attack humanitarian or U.N. peacekeeping operations can also be sanctioned, as well as those that obstruct peace talks.
The order also blocks such people from entering the United States.
Last week, South Sudan's Minister of Information Michael Makuei criticized the "foreign intervention" by the U.S. and denied that the South Sudanese government is impeding the peace process, Voice of America reported.
"This excessive intervention with the objective of driving the peace process in the direction people want, this is what is causing us problems. Not the rebels or the government," Makuei said.
Several rounds of peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebels have been held in neighboring Ethiopia. They are currently stalled until the end of April.
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