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Is Khartoum Sending Weapons to Rebels in South Sudan?

Is Khartoum Sending Weapons to Rebels in South Sudan?

Relations between Sudan and South Sudan have been understandably tense since South Sudan broke off from its northern neighbor in 2011. Conflict in South Sudan erupted almost immediately after independence, and only worsened in late 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his onetime ally, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup.

Since then, South Sudan has alleged, and Sudan has denied again and again, that the government in Khartoum is perpetuating the violence by supplying South Sudanese rebel groups with arms and ammunition.

Now, the London-based research organization Conflict Armament Research claims in a new report that their researchers have obtained proof that Khartoum is lying.

Studying troves of ammunition recovered from rebel forces in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, the group’s researchers found that more than 70 percent of the sample of the opposition’s ammunition was manufactured in Sudan, with the vast majority made in 2014, indicating the deliveries were recent. The cartridges match those airdropped by Khartoum to Séléka rebels who overthrew the government in the Central African Republic in 2013 and to ammunition allegedly provided by Sudan to Yau Yau rebels in South Sudan in 2012.

Damage to some of the materiel recovered in South Sudan indicates that it was likely airdropped to the rebels, which eyewitnesses claim occurred in September and October 2014.

Chinese-made ammunition was also found in the stockpile, but the group’s report said its path of travel was harder to confirm. Even so, the Chinese cartridges matched those airdropped by Khartoum to other South Sudanese rebels in recent years and were likely brought to South Sudan by way of Sudan.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the SPLA-in Opposition have been in conflict since 2013. Both the SPLA and the SPLA-IO have taken turns controlling territory, and over the course of the conflict, each group has at times managed to capture the other’s equipment. The ammunition in question was reportedly supplied to the SPLA-IO.

The conflict has displaced more than 2 million people and sparked a massive famine. In the last two months alone, more than 100,000 have been displaced and more than 650,000 aid deliveries have been blocked. More than 555,000 have fled the country entirely. The U.N. estimates that close to 4 million of South Sudan’s 11 million people do not have enough food, putting the hunger crisis at an all-time high.

If Sudan has indeed been providing the opposition with ammunition, it has helped fuel a conflict that has destabilized the region and sent large numbers of refugees seeking shelter in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Uganda.

The covert provision of arms to violent opposition groups — and subsequent denials of responsibility — have become something of a theme of Sudanese foreign policy. In 2013, after the Small Arms Survey alleged Khartoum supplied the Yau Yau rebels, another opposition group, with arms and ammunition, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir claimed it was a lie.

“It is not true that the Sudan government is supporting the rebellion of Yau Yau or any other rebellions against South Sudan in the border,” Bashir said at the time.

He has not yet responded to Tuesday’s report.

Photo credit: FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images