A new report shows more weapons flowing into the hands of rebel militias in Sudan and South Sudan in the past year. The development threatens to increase tensions between two countries that have clashed repeatedly since the south declared independence last year.
The report published Friday by the Small Arms Survey, an organization monitoring the flow of weapons in the region, says funding is coming from both countries and putting more weapons in the hands of rebels on both sides of the border.
Jonah Leff, project coordinator for the Small Arms Survey in Sudan and South Sudan, says this report is significant in terms of sorting out accusations in the proxy wars going on between the two countries since they spilt in July.
“We’ve been hearing allegations of support from Khartoum to rebel groups for months, if not years, and I think what this does is it offers some concrete evidence that lends credibility to those allegations," Leff said. "At the same time, the North’s [Sudan’s] claim that the SPLA is supporting the SPLM north on the other side of the border, we tend to also confirm that that is happening as well.”
Using different tracing techniques, the monitoring group says hundreds of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition said to be collected from rebel militias by South Sudan’s Army, the SPLA, can be linked back to the government of Khartoum - making them the primary weapon supplier to rebels in the new country.
One Khartoum-funded militia operating in South Sudan, called the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), has told the Small Arms Survey their supply line from Sudan includes over 125 assault rifles, machine guns, around 10 RPG’s (rocket-propelled grenades), mortars and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
And according to Leff, even though rebel activity is down this year, the new supply of weapons is alarming.
“For the most part the weapons are the same, but there have been larger caliber weapons that have been supplied last year in comparison to previous years," he explained. "Rebel groups are yielding more heavy machine guns, which, at least in South Sudan, we didn’t see as much of that. Ordinarily it was assault rifles and smaller weapons. We’ve even seen a number of mid-caliber mortars.”
Juba and Khartoum have both accused the other of funding rebels operating in their respective countries.
Leff says the accusations have been a divisive factor in talks between the two countries in an ongoing oil dispute and other issues left unresolved following the south’s declaration of independence.
“As long as each side is supporting rebel forces on the other’s territory, I don’t see that will pave the way for any kind of fruitful discussion over oil or border demarcation,” Leff said.
Officials on both sides had reported progress in the talks until this week, when militaries from both countries clashed in the oil producing area of Heglig north of the border.
Both militaries reportedly pulled back from the conflict zone in recent days.