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US sanctions 2 individuals on either side of deadly conflict in South Sudan

WASHINGTON - The U.S. on Tuesday issued sanctions against two individuals on either side of the deadly conflict in South Sudan that has killed thousands of people and forced more than 1.3 million from their homes in the world's newest nation.

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions against Peter Gadet, who defected from the South Sudan's military and is accused of leading anti-government forces in an April 17 attack that left more than 200 civilians dead. Also sanctioned was Marial Chanuong, commander of the South Sudanese government's presidential guard force, who is accused of leading violent attacks against civilians in the capital city of Juba.

These individuals are responsible for "perpetrating unthinkable violence against civilians," Secretary of State John Kerry said at the State Department.

For the United States, instability in South Sudan is not just another example of a weak African state struggling to deal with political infighting, poverty and fighting between the military and rebel groups. South Sudan is a largely Christian nation that broke off from the Muslim-dominated Sudan after a 2011 referendum. The fighting is an embarrassment to the U.S., which has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and has been its strongest international champion.

Kerry just returned from Africa, where he urged peace talks in South Sudan and threatened the sanctions in an effort to end months of killing. Violence has rocked the country since December, when President Salva Kiir accused former Vice-President Riek Machar of staging a coup. Machar denies the accusation and said the government is trying to root out political opponents.

Kerry said he spoke earlier Tuesday with the prime minister of Ethiopia and discussed a possible face-to-face meeting, perhaps as early as this week, between Kir and Machar.

"We're very hopeful that that can be the beginning of a dialogue," Kerry said. "We will do our upmost to prevent South Sudan from plunging back into the violence and despair that tore that country apart for so long."

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Associated Press Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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