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Watchdog says Sudan may have violated arms embargo

Justin Lynch
Associated Press

Nairobi, Kenya — The Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir may have violated U.N. sanctions on arms sales with Iran and also skirted a European Union embargo, a weapons-monitoring group said Wednesday.

The report by Conflict Armament Research says a cache captured from the Khartoum government forces may contain evidence of those violations. The London-based watchdog said the weapons were captured in the contested Blue Nile region by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North, which has been battling government forces.

According to the report, the weapons include an Iranian howitzer artillery gun and tanks refurbished by the Sanam Industrial Group, an Iranian government-affiliated company that was placed under sanctions in 2007 when the U.N. Security Council banned heavy weapons exports from Iran.

However, the date of the acquisition of the weapons remains unknown — hence it’s unclear if any violations actually took place.

The watchdog said the cache marks “the first evidence of heavy weapon supplies from Iran to Sudan.”

“The weapons evidence we documented suggests there was a significant military buildup by Sudan in Blue Nile in early 2016,” said Justine Fleischner, an adviser at Conflict Armament Research. “If you compare the weapons evidence to the narrative that the Sudanese have changed their posture, it just doesn’t add up.”

The report comes just months after the United States temporarily lifted sanctions on Sudan as a reward after seeing a reduction in military offensives by the Khartoum government.

Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands for war crime allegations linked to the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

The fighting in Blue Nile state and South Kordofan pits the Khartoum government against rebels from the SPLA-N, who were left on the northern side of the border in Sudan after South Sudan became independent in July 2011. The separation followed a peaceful independence vote guaranteed in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.

Sudan has been under U.S. financial sanctions since the 1990s after being accused of state sponsored terrorism. The E.U. placed an arms embargo on Sudan in 1994, but the report released on Wednesday highlighted how the North African government has expanded efforts to circumvent the European arms restriction.

The researchers cited Sudan’s use of “civilian front companies” to purchase military equipment, tracing four combat grade vehicles on battlefields in Blue Nile and South Kordofan to a Dutch company who sold them for use as “a garbage collection service.”

As one of his last acts in office early this year, former President Barack Obama temporarily lifted some financial sanctions on Sudan following a “marked reduction in offensive military activity” in the previous six months.

The United States will formally review the sanctions in July.

The U.S. lifting of sanctions “sends a message that Sudan is behaving meritoriously when there is a mountain of evidence that it has for years flouted international arms embargoes and committed grave human rights violations,” Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Africa division told The Associated Press.