The UK has put sanctions on six companies it says are associated with the two sides fighting for power in Sudan, though the prospect of any of the Gulf states most entwined in the Sudanese economy joining the UK remain remote.
The Foreign Office slapped sanctions on three firms linked to leaders of the Sudanese armed forces and three connected to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The warring factions have been involved in a bloody battle for power since April, which forced more than 680,000 to flee the country. A further 2.2 million are thought to have been internally displaced.
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, last week warned Sudan was on the brink of all-out civil war after an airstrike on a residential area killed two dozen civilians.
The effect of the sanctions is that no UK citizen, bank or company can have any dealings with the six sanctioned firms, the Foreign Office said.
In practice, none of the firms have a big commercial footprint in the UK so the announcement is predominantly designed to encourage key Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to review their commercial links with the warring factions.
Overall, the UK and Gulf states’ policies towards the conflict’s resolution are the same, but they differ on whether or how to apply economic pressure. Gulf states do not usually use sanctions as a foreign policy tool.
The EU also does not have an autonomous sanctions regime for Sudan.
UK officials nevertheless believe it is the right time to send a stronger message to the warring parties since the trajectory of the conflict is becoming more widespread, with reports of ethnic atrocities in Darfur.
The Foreign Office held off to see if US-Saudi sponsored peace talks in Jeddah, and the numerous partial ceasefires, might bear fruit.
But the lack of good faith and the US-imposed sanctions in June has solidified the UK’s view that it needed to harden its stance.
Western diplomats believe there are widespread war crimes being committed by both sides and the even-handed nature of the sanctions – three companies from each side – reflects that assessment.
As part of the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa, officials fear the conflict has a strategic significance beyond Sudan.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, said: “These sanctions are directly targeting those whose actions have destroyed the lives of millions. Both sides have committed multiple ceasefire violations in a war, which is completely unjustified.
“Innocent civilians continue to face the devastating effects of the hostilities, and we simply cannot afford to sit by and watch as money from these companies, all funding the RSF or SAF, is spent on a senseless conflict.”
The sanctions will not affect aid to the region and they include a humanitarian exemption, ensuring that aid can continue to be delivered by the UN and other eligible organisations.