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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

European arms are being funneled to South Sudan in breach of embargo, investigation shows

A new report reveals that the war-torn country's neighbours are fuelling both sides of the civil war

Former Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar, left, greets South Sudan President Salva Kiir, right, as Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, center, looks on as they meet at State House in Entebbe, Uganda. AP
Former Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar, left, greets South Sudan President Salva Kiir, right, as Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, center, looks on as they meet at State House in Entebbe, Uganda. AP

Thousands of weapons have reached South Sudan from Europe, breaching sanctions and fuelling one of the world's bloodiest conflicts, a four-year forensic study by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) has found.

The report published on Thursday is based on a data set of 128 weapons, 201,517 rounds of ammunition and a range of other military materiel – all of which have contributed to the killing of some 400,000 people and the displacement of more than four million.

The landlocked country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, only to become embroiled in a violent civil war two years later, when President Salva Kiir Mayardit fell out with his vice president, Riek Machar. Fighting, famine and a failing economy have since become the order of the day for the world's youngest state.

The latest peace deal struck in September saw Mr Machar return as Mr Kiir's deputy for the first time in two years; a previous attempt at that arrangement failed amid fresh fighting in July 2016. The new deal, largely brokered by Uganda and Sudan, faces scepticism from the United States and others.

This photo released by Conflict Armament Research taken in Feb. 2017 is said by them to show a Diamond DA42 surveillance aircraft at the international airport in Juba, South Sudan. Conflict Armament Research via AP
This photo released by Conflict Armament Research taken in Feb. 2017 is said by them to show a Diamond DA42 surveillance aircraft at the international airport in Juba, South Sudan. Conflict Armament Research via AP

In July, the UN imposed an arms embargo on the country and eight leaders and commanders were subjected to individual sanctions.

However, impunity continues to fuel abuses in the conflict, Human Rights Watch says.

According to the CAR report, small arms and ammunition set to land in neighbouring Uganda were re-directed to South Sudan and into the hands of the People's Liberation Army (SPLA). A US military jet and an Austrian-made spy plane were also delivered to the SPLA.

Although there is no evidence the EU countries involved – Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia – knew the arms were headed to Juba, it highlights the flaws in the oversight of arms export.

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With the Bulgarian weapons, "South Sudan arranged for Uganda to issue end-user certificates (the essential paperwork for an international arms transfer) ... to make it look like these weapons were for the use of the Ugandan armed forces when in fact they were always destined for South Sudan," Mike Lewis, the head of regional operations for Conflict Armament Research, said.

The report also describes how a network of "jointly owned Ugandan and US companies – controlled by British, Israeli, Ugandan, and US nationals – procured a military jet from the United States and an Austrian-made surveillance aircraft, which one of these companies delivered into service with (South Sudan's military) in 2015 and 2016, respectively."

Based on interviews and commercial documents, the report found that the company, Yamasec, transferred both aircraft to South Sudan's military. The US military jet, after being used by Uganda's air force, was deployed in South Sudan in 2016, overflying armed opposition targets along with attack helicopters.

This photo released by Conflict Armament Research taken in June 2017 in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, is said by them to show the packing sheet of a crate of 12.7 × 108 mm ammunition, manufactured in the Soviet Union but exported from Bulgaria in or after 2015, in the possession of South Sudanese opposition soldiers who said they seized it from government forces in March 2017. Conflict Armament Research via AP
This photo released by Conflict Armament Research taken in June 2017 in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, is said by them to show the packing sheet of a crate of 12.7 × 108 mm ammunition, manufactured in the Soviet Union but exported from Bulgaria in or after 2015, in the possession of South Sudanese opposition soldiers who said they seized it from government forces in March 2017. Conflict Armament Research via AP

Unlike previous published research on the flow of weapons into South Sudan, the sample of weapons documented by CAR allows for a more detailed typology and chronology of international suppliers.

"The supply, sale or transfer of arms and related materiel and related military or other assistance, including through illicit trafficking networks, to individuals and entities undermining political processes to reach a final peace agreement or participating in acts that violate international human rights law or international humanitarian law," the report says.

But while the arms embargo continues to be breached, unchecked militias will rule lawless and armed, killing civilians and perpetuating the country's cycle of violence.

While the September peace deal is being upheld, rights groups warn that South Sudan is not only ignoring the arms embargo becoming emboldened to crush any opposition at home because of such impunity.

"The government has become increasingly intolerant and repressive, arbitrarily detaining critics, members of civil society, journalists and politicians often holding them for extended periods, sometimes years".