The nine year period from 2005 to 2014 saw peacekeepers, including those from South Africa, in Sudan and South Sudan attacked more than 100 times and suffer the loss of hundreds of weapons and ammunition running into hundreds of thousands of rounds, according to a new report from the Small Arms Survey.
Weapon losses include pistols, assault rifles, machine guns (light and heavy), grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons and mortars. Documented losses have been incurred by United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) peace operations in Darfur and South Sudan.
“Under Attack and Above Scrutiny? Arms and Ammunition Diversion from Peacekeepers in Sudan and South Sudan” is the first independent review of weapons lost in peacekeeper operations in the two countries and was conducted to support more effective peacekeeping. The study draws on an original dataset that compiles data from a variety of open sources, such as United Nations and African UNION reports, media articles and academic papers, supplemented by more than 100 key informant interviews.
Both the number of incidents and the number of weapons diverted are probably significantly under-counted due to the lack of transparency in reporting losses incurred and at times sub-optimal record keeping of peacekeepers’ equipment, the Small Arms Survey said.
Study co-author and Small Arms Survey managing director Eric Berman said: “The loss of arms and ammunition in peace operations cannot be completely prevented given the challenging environments in which peacekeepers are deployed. But these losses are larger and more frequent than previously appreciated, and can be reduced”.
The paper makes key findings including the number of attacks on peacekeepers.
The attacks do not include carjackings and household robberies. At least half of them saw arms and ammunition stolen and, according to the Switzerland-based organisation, the “vast majority” happened in the Darfur region.
Between 2005 and 2014 there have been at least 20 notable incidents in which at least 10 weapons or 500 rounds of ammunition in possession of or destined for peacekeepers in Sudan and South Sudan have been diverted. Seizures of this materiel have occurred both at fixed sites such as mission bases and observation posts and during transit on patrols and in convoys.
The 20 notable incidents saw more than 750,000 rounds of ammunition taken, including for pistols, assault rifles and machine guns. Peacekeepers have also lost “sizable” numbers of grenades, rockets and mortars.
More than 400 weapons including pistols, assault rifles, machine guns (light and heavy), grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons and mortars were “diverted” from the 20 notable incidents.
Small Arms Survey highlighted four incidents over a ten-week period it said underscore the challenging environment that peacekeepers face and the materiel they frequently lose. On 29 October 2008 nine South African peacekeepers guarding a water point near Kutum were attacked. One peacekeeper was killed and another injured, while one light machine gun and 200 rounds of ammunition were taken. On 9 November a Nigerian patrol was ambushed between its camp and Al Geneina and one vehicle was seized. On 27 December one peacekeeper was killed while on patrol with others near Al Fasher. One AK-type assault rifle and an unspecified vehicle were seized on this occasion. A few days later, on 3 January 2009, a vehicle carrying six members of the Nigerian contingent was carjacked. Three assault rifles and 180 rounds of ammunition were taken in the incident.
Other incidents involving South African personnel were highlighted in the report. For instance, on 11 April 2010, four South African UN Police personnel were attacked in South Darfur and abducted and two vehicles stolen. They were released sixteen days later. On 26 August 2010 the South African contingent had one assault rifle stolen.
The report also lists attacks on South African troops where materiel was in some instances possibly taken. For example an attack on a Unamid patrol in North Darfur on 12 November 2012 that killed one South African; an attack on a Unamid patrol on 17 October 2012 that killed one South African in North Darfur; and an attack on a South African Unamid patrol in North Darfur on 29 October 2014 that injured three.
The Small Arms Survey Diversion Dataset also documented some 40 cases of “small-scale” diversion, which, though not described in detail in the report, can add up to meaningful losses.
In conclusion the report states: “The oversight and reporting of arms and ammunition that peacekeepers recover from various armed actors in the mission area are often lax and can lead to recirculation and inappropriate use. Materiel may, for example, be returned to the person or group from which it was taken, given to a recognised tribal authority, or retained by a troop contributing country for safekeeping. Rarely are such munitions destroyed”.