Uganda defied a European Union arms embargo and purchased arms and ammunition from at least three EU members — Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia — that were then transferred to South Sudan’s military and armed allies in Sudan before the United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Juba in July this year.
This is part of the findings of a study by London-based Conflict Armament Research (CAR), released on Thursday, which raises questions about Uganda’s support for the Juba administration even as it promotes itself as a “impartial negotiator” in the five-year conflict.
South Sudan’s warring sides signed a peace agreement in September in Addis to end a five-year civil war that has killed nearly 400,000 people, after previous peace agreements collapsed.
The report details how military equipment reached all sides of the South Sudan conflict from 2014 through the intermediation of neighbouring states, networks of brokers and intermediaries, via air and land.
“South Sudan’s immediate neighbours have been the main conduits, and sometimes sponsors, of weapon supplies to all sides in the conflict,” says the report.
“These cross-border supplies have in some cases included weapons, ammunition and aircraft lawfully exported to South Sudan’s neighbours from China, the European Union, and the United States.”
There is no suggestion that the exporting countries were aware of the possible diversion of their material to South Sudan, or that they were complicit in the diversion, the report says.
“Nonetheless, these retransfers may have breached end-use or non-retransfer commitments made to exporters as a prior condition of sale.”
European and US arms transfers to South Sudan’s neighbours have involved a wider international circle of European, Israeli and US individuals and companies, who have either been unwitting suppliers of the South Sudan conflict, while in other cases, have liaised directly with senior national army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and the main opposition forces, the SPLA-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO) to supply weapons and related equipment via South Sudan’s neighbours.
“This report provides the first public evidence of direct liaison between these commercial suppliers and the parties to the conflict.
“Such activities may in some cases fall under European Union and US arms control mechanisms — notably the longstanding EU embargoes on Sudan and South Sudan, and extraterritorial dimensions of US arms control laws.
“It paints a forensic picture of how prohibitions on arms transfers to the warring parties have failed,” said Conflict Armament Research’s executive director James Beva.
Although there was no UN arms embargo between 2013 and mid this year, some of the military materiel transferred from Uganda to South Sudan — in potential violation of non-retransfer and end use restrictions — was exported to Uganda by states, including EU member states, that had already imposed regional or unilateral prohibitions on arms supplies to South Sudan.
The SPLA and SPLA-IO have each relied on air assets to deliver weapons and personnel to the conflict’s major operational theatres.
The SPLA, in particular, has used foreign commercial logistics providers to do so, including oil firms who use their logistics lines to move weapons within the conflict-torn country.
The EU has begun to put diplomatic pressure on at least one of these suppliers through the state where the company and its aircraft are registered.
Under the new UN Security Council embargo, other countries may similarly be able to increase diplomatic pressure and scrutiny on logistics providers and commercial air assets operating in South Sudan.
A network of US and Ugandan companies — controlled by British, Israeli, Ugandan, and US nationals — procured a military jet from the United States and an Austrian-made surveillance aircraft.
“These aircraft entered into SPLA service during 2015 and 2016 with neither the original supplier companies, nor the US or Austrian governments, being aware that the aircraft could be retransferred to South Sudan.
“However, has obtained documentation indicating that at least one of the companies in the US–Ugandan network that procured the aircraft was in direct commercial contact with the South Sudanese government regarding the supply of at least one of these aircraft to the SPLA, along with training, crew and technical support,” the report says.
A US firm, Yamasec, is accused of aiding the purchase of the aircraft in the US and using the cover of the Uganda military to transfer two aircraft to South Sudan’s military, violating the non-retransfer conditions under the US arms export controls.
The military jet’s previous private owner in the US told that Yamasec USA Llc took responsibility for obtaining a US Department of Commerce dual-use export licence, but the US State Department denied ever issuing such a licence.
“The transfer of the aircraft from Uganda to South Sudan was not unlawful at that time, as no UN embargo was in effect.
“Since this aircraft was originally exported from the United States to Uganda, however, its re-export to South Sudan may have violated non-retransfer conditions under US arms export controls — assuming that it did indeed receive a US licence for its export to Uganda,” the report said.
The report also shows that Riek Machar’s SPLA-IO officials sought to obtain their own aviation capability, using a Kenyan registered company, but it flopped.
In early 2016, a senior SPLA-IO politician and adviser to Mr Machar entered into negotiations with a US lawyer and a Somali-US citizen to purchase a second-hand Fokker F27 Mk 50 aircraft, through a Kenyan aviation firm, for $4 million.
“A draft purchase agreement and draft aircraft operation agreement, both drawn up by the US lawyer and Somali-US citizen and dated October 2015, list the aircraft’s seller as Brighton Freedom Air.
“This company was newly registered in Kenya in August 2015 as a subsidiary of Brighton Ventures Llc, a company based in the US state of Maryland.
“The episode is indicative of the range of international actors from which the SPLA-IO has attempted, largely unsuccessfully, to acquire both military equipment and dual-use items such as aircraft,” the report said, adding that this attempt to procure an aircraft was not the first time that SPLA-IO figures had reached out to wider international procurement networks.
Between 2014 and 2015, Uganda, a key US security ally in the region, imported Bulgarian weapons that found their way into the South Sudan military, becoming complicit in the diversion of ammunition.
Mike Lewis, head of regional operations for CAR, said that South Sudan arranged for Uganda to issue end-user certificates, which are essential for an international arms transfer.
“This was just to make it look like the weapons were meant for the Ugandan army use yet, in a real sense, they were headed to Juba,” Mr Lewis said.
Ugandan military spokesman, Brig Richard Karemire said they are yet to see the report, but they “support the peace process” in South Sudan.
China has also been named in the report, given that its ammunition is by far the most prevalent among all sides in the civil war.