Who is arming Riek Machar’s soldiers and how?

Saturday July 16 2016

Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) soldiers loyal to rebel leader Riek Machar sit in vehicle at the airport in Juba on April 20, 2016. During the civil war, which started in 2013, several top South Sudan government officials alleged that Khartoum was supplying Dr Machar with arms. PHOTO | CARL DE SOUZA | AFP

South Sudan Forces belonging to First Vice-President Riek Machar seem to have more sophisticated weapons, but the source of the arms is unclear.

During the civil war, which started in 2013, several top South Sudan government officials alleged that Khartoum was supplying Dr Machar with arms. And in 2015, the London-based Conflict Armament Research produced a report saying that Sudan had been airdropping weapons to the rebel forces.

READ: Khartoum accused of arming South Sudan rebels

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But in an interview with The EastAfrican in April 2014, Dr Machar denied any links with Sudan.  

“I get my arms and ammunition from President Salva Kiir’s army. On the contrary, he is the one who buys arms and ammunition from Khartoum, and we capture them on the ground whenever we overrun their stations,” Dr Machar said.


However, the Conflict Armament Research — which investigates weapons trafficking in active conflicts around the world — documented the weapons that were captured by government forces in December 2014 from the rebel base in Khorflus in Pigi County, Jonglei State.

The results showed that the weapons were different from those used by government forces. The report said that Sudan had dropped weapons and ammunition in rebel-held territories between September and October 2014.

Captured weapons included 300 rounds of small-calibre ammunition and larger artillery; 70 per cent of the 7.62 x 39mm ammunition was Sudanese manufactured. The report said that the same ammunition was found after the rebel attack on the mosque in Bentiu in April 2014.

However, Neimat Ali, press attaché at the Sudan embassy in Nairobi, denied that her country has any links with Dr Machar, adding that it would be contrary to President Omar Al-Bashir calls for the two leaders to stop the war.

“No country in the region wants the South Sudanese to fight among themselves, knowing that it will have a negative impact on their economy and security. This is an internal inter-ethnic issue that has nothing to do with Sudan,” said Ms Neimat. 

In December 2014, a senior official with the SPLM-In-Opposition revealed they had acquired sophisticated weapons including anti-tank and anti-aircraft shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and QW-18 Man-Portable Air-Defence System.

In April, Dr Machar’s return to Juba was delayed for two weeks after the government resisted his plans to take in sophisticated arms such as anti-tank, laser-guided missiles and heavy machine guns.

China has been the main supplier of weapons to President Kiir through the Kenyan sea port of Mombasa. Other weapons, including tanks, come through Uganda.

According to the UN Panel of Experts report produced in August 2015, China North Industries Corporation sold $20 million worth of “arms, ammunition, and related materiel” to the government’s armed forces.

However, in October 2014, the Chinese government stopped weapons sales to South Sudan, and cancelled the remainder of the $38 million order.

Attempts by the UN Security Council to impose a fresh arms embargo on South Sudan after the outbreak of the civil war in 2013, were vetoed by China and Russia.