A report released by the UN says that South Sudan has spent more than $850 million on four Mi-24 attack helicopters, Chinese missiles, 10 amphibious vehicles and thousands of Israeli-made rifles in a bid to crush an armed rebellion which broke out in December 2013.
The report says the new weapons have been “been instrumental in prolonging and escalating the war” and enabling large-scale violations of humanitarian law. The report, posted on the UN website on 25 August, identified the Israeli assault rifle widely used in South Sudan as the Ace, an upgraded version of the Galil assault rifle which is manufactured by Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI).
The Ace is reported to be widely used by the army, national police and bodyguards of high-ranking officials and senior army officers. The UN panel, which was in South Sudan in June and July this year, says it obtained a confidential army emergency budget document which detailed how the $850 million was to be spent on weapons acquisitions between January and July last year.
According to the report, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) acquired weapons worth $20 million in July last year from state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North Industries Corporation (Norinco). These include 100 anti-tank guided missile launchers, 1,200 missiles, about 2,400 grenade launchers, nearly 10,000 automatic rifles and 24 million rounds of various types of ammunition.
The report says South Sudan, which did not have attack helicopters prior to the outbreak of the civil war in December 2013, now operates four Mi-24V/Mi-24K attack helicopters acquired from Russia at a cost of $10 million each and armed with 80 mm S-8 rocket pods.
“All parties to the conflict have been targeting civilians as part of their military tactics and thereby contravening applicable international humanitarian law, as referenced in resolution 2206 (2015). Scores of civilians have been killed, maimed, tortured, burned alive inside their homes, displaced, raped and abducted, and children have been recruited and used as part of the war effort. The Panel is investigating the chain of command pertaining to those serious crimes.
“The supply of arms and ammunition to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition, as well as to affiliated forces, has been instrumental in prolonging and escalating the war. It is further clear that the acquisition by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of greater air and riverine capacity is part of a strategy to diminish the tactical disadvantage posed by the difficulty of deploying troops and heavy equipment during the rainy season, which could have a substantial impact on the dynamics on the ground,” the main part of the report reads.
Opposition forces loyal to Riek Machar received ammunition made in Sudan as recently as 2014. The report said the ammunition was “highly probably airdropped” into rebel-held territory.
The UN Panel of Experts has pledged to continue to investigate arms transfers to the country, their sources and the trafficking networks behind them while analysing the impact of those weapons on the war and their role in violations of basic human rights and international humanitarian law.
The UN Panel, which is headed by Vladimir Zhagora from Belarus, was deployed to South Sudan to identify those seen as obstructing efforts at achieving peace, the armed groups behind systematic attacks on civilians and information on the individual and groups which are reportedly blocking the movement of humanitarian workers in areas most-affected by the war.
South Sudan was plunged into a civil war in December 2013 when a political crisis sparked fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy Riek Machar. The conflict has reopened ethnic fault lines that pit Kiir’s Dinka people against Machar’s ethnic Nuer people. Many of the 11 million population have been driven to the brink of starvation and 2 million people have fled their homes, often to neighbouring states.
Kiir last week Wednesday signed a peace deal to end the 20-month conflict, but he told regional African leaders at the ceremony that he still had “serious reservations”. Machar, who is expected to become the country’s First Vice President under the deal, signed the document two weeks ago in the Ethiopian capital.
Machar accused government forces on Monday of repeatedly breaking the ceasefire and putting at risk a peace deal just days after it was reached.
Machar said government troops and their fleet of gunboats mounted with heavy artillery were encroaching further into rebel-held territory in oil-rich Unity state.
Pic: A tank patrols along one of the main roads in the South Sudanese capital Juba December 16, 2013. Photo by Reuters/Hakim George.