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Report: Khartoum Possibly Arming Rebels in South Sudan

FILE - A soldier from Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) walks goats in Leer, Unity State.
FILE - A soldier from Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) walks goats in Leer, Unity State.

A new report indicates Sudan may be supplying arms to the rebel opposition in South Sudan by airdrop, despite Khartoum's claims that it is not involved in the conflict. Researchers say the alleged flow of weapons has sustained fighting which first broke out between the government and opposition forces in December 2013.

The report from London-based Conflict Armament Research documents the contents of a stash of ammunition and weapons that South Sudan's military, the SPLA, seized from opposition forces late last year.

The group says the haul includes about 300 rounds of small-caliber ammunition and some larger artillery captured in Jonglei state from rebel forces, known as the SPLA in opposition.

Markings on much of the ammunition indicate it was made in Sudan in the last few years.

Jonah Leff, the group's director of operations, said the manufacturing dates suggest Khartoum's direct involvement in supplying the rebels.

“Most likely any ammunition manufactured in 2014 most likely hasn't changed hands many times, which suggests, like in previous years, that Sudan may have provided this ammunition directly to the SPLA in opposition,” said Leff.

Researchers said some Chinese-manufactured rounds documented in the report are the same type used in a rebel attack on a mosque in the town of Bentiu in April 2014 in which the United Nations says 287 civilians were killed.

The report has also determined that the supplies must have been dropped from the air, based on the damage found on some of the ammunition.

“The impact, once the equipment hits the ground, even if it's packaged in crates, sustains some damage. So we noticed, for instance, with the small caliber ammunition, some of the rounds were bent and disfigured, the larger ammunition were stored in tubes that had also bent and jammed up so that you weren't even able to open them,” said Leff.

Leff notes that while they are almost certain the materiel was dropped by air, they cannot confirm that it came from Sudanese aircraft.

Conflict Armament Research is a Britain-based group that tracks weapons trafficking in conflicts around the world, with the goal of guiding arms control strategies.

Khartoum has repeatedly denied allegations of arming the South Sudanese rebels, saying they have no interest in deepening the conflict in South Sudan.

The new report, however, also notes that some of the ammunition documented is identical to equipment Sudan has supplied to rebel groups in the past.

While most of the equipment was manufactured in Sudan or China, researchers also found two American-made 57mm anti-tank rounds packed in wooden crates.

Leff said this artillery was manufactured in the 1970's and is similar to other equipment previously sold to Sudan.

“We have documented other U.S.-manufactured large caliber ammunition with South Sudanese rebels that had previously been supplied to Sudan prior to the U.S. sanctions on Sudan in the 1980's, but we can't say with certainty that these rounds were part of any of those consignments or deliveries during that time,” he said.

Fighting in South Sudan has intensified in recent weeks as the two sides battle for control of oil fields in Upper Nile state.

The African Union recently backed a United Nations call for an arms embargo on South Sudan to stop the conflict, as well as targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violence.