Arms flows to South Sudan rivals revealed in UN report

A fleet of Ugandan attack helicopters at Entebbe Military Airbase. A UN report indicates Uganda is arming the Juba regime while Sudan is quietly backing the rebels. PHOTO | FILE 

South Sudan's government has purchased three attack helicopters from a company in Ukraine and is seeking to obtain another four through a Kampala-based company "closely connected to the Ugandan security establishment," a United Nations panel of experts says in a report published on Friday.

Sudan, meanwhile, has been "the default arms supplier to the opposition" led by Riek Machar, the panel further reports. But those supplies have fallen short of what is needed by opposition fighters, leading Mr Machar to seek arms from numerous sources, "albeit with comparatively limited success," the UN experts add.

"Former opposition members speculated that the Sudan intended to supply sufficient ammunition to keep the opposition fighting while not providing it with either sufficient materiel or the kind of equipment (in particular, surface-to-air missiles) required to defeat the government," the report states.

The three attack helicopters already in operation have given government forces "an important advantage in military operations," the panel finds. These Mi-24 choppers are also said to have facilitated expansion of what the report describes as "an aggressive war" being waged by President Salva Kiir.

The helicopters purchased from a private Ukraine company called Motor Sich at a seemingly inflated total price of nearly $43 million have also "emboldened those in the government who are seeking a military solution to the conflict" rather than pursuing a political settlement, the report adds.

Uganda connection

The government is seeking to buy four additional attack helicopters at a total cost of $35.7 million through Bosasy Logistics, the Kampala-based company with ties to the Ugandan military, the UN experts say. They suggest that these helicopters may also originate with Motor Sich, but the experts caution that they cannot state with certainty that Bosasy is acting as the conduit for a sale by the Ukraine firm.

"Several independent sources in Kampala and Juba have told the panel that there is a standing unwritten agreement to supply the government of South Sudan with arms and ammunition through Uganda," the report states. "According to that information, Uganda either supplies South Sudan with its own stock or acquires the weapons and then transfers them to South Sudan, without necessarily involving or obtaining the consent of the primary seller."

Israel has also supplied the South Sudan government with communications interception equipment that has enhanced the National Security Service's ability to "identify and illegally apprehend individuals," the panel indicates.

In addition, Israeli Micro Galil rifles, known as "Galaxies," are in widespread use in South Sudan, especially in Upper Nile State, the report says. These rifles are said to have been sold by the Israeli manufacturer to Uganda's Ministry of Defence in 2007. The weapons were transferred to South Sudan's National Security Service in 2014, the experts state. "According to the government of Israel," they add, "Uganda did not request permission for the transfer."

Whereas small arms are abundant in South Sudan, "ammunition supply remains problematic, and tracing opposition supply routes is difficult," the report notes. The panel members say that Chinese manufacturers were the source of 60 per cent of the ammunition examined in a sample of heavy machine gun rounds captured by government forces from rebel units aligned with Johnson Olony. The Chinese government subsequently informed the panel that this specific type of ammunition was not exported to South Sudan, the report adds.

Arms purchases by the government are contributing significantly to the "catastrophic economic situation" facing South Sudan, the experts observe.

They say the government's monthly budget registers an average shortfall of at least $220 million. "Excessive borrowing from the Central Bank" has resulted in a domestic debt of more than $4 billion, the report calculates.

It adds that the South Sudan government also relies on $100 million letters of credit from the Qatar National Bank, along with loans from foreign oil companies. The UN panel does not identify those companies but says it is investigating the matter.

Military opportunism

The report is blistering in its characterisation of the nature of the 26-month-long conflict.

"The civil war in South Sudan, which began as a political conflict between elites, has evolved over the past two years into a tribal war, reigniting historic grievances and encouraging military opportunism and revenge," the panel declares. "The war is now perceived by many South Sudanese as a zero-sum struggle where the exclusion of competing tribes from political power and the monopolisation of resources for personal gain have become the principal aims of the belligerents."

The UN panel holds President Kiir and Mr Machar personally responsible for the continuation and conduct of the war.

"There is clear and convincing evidence that most of the acts of violence committed during the war, including the targeting of civilians and violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, have been directed by or undertaken with the knowledge of senior individuals at the highest levels of the government and within the opposition," the report states.

President Kiir and Mr Machar can potentially be targeted for sanctions, the experts add.

The report also finds that the peace agreement signed in August "has failed to result in a meaningful reduction of violence." Progress toward establishing a transitional government of national unity has been "minimal," the panel adds, "largely owing to a lack of political will by both parties."

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