Kampala. British researchers who track weapons and ammunitions in war zones, allege in a new report that Uganda was used as a conduit to smuggle military arsenal for South Sudan, helping the troubled country circumvent an international arms embargo.
The report titled, ‘Weapon supplies into South Sudan’s civil war,’ was published online yesterday by Conflict Armament Research in London with the support of the European Union and Germany Federal Foreign Office
It notes: “Some of the military material re-transferred from Uganda to South Sudan in potential violation of non-re-transfer and end-user restrictions was exported to Uganda by states, including some European Union (EU) member states that had already imposed regional or unilateral prohibitions on arms supplies to South Sudan.”
Brig Richard Karemire, Uganda’s Defence and UPDF spokesperson, yesterday declined to comment on the findings, saying he had not read the report.
“Uganda is one of the key players in the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process and we have brought [warring] parties [in South Sudan] together to sign an agreement,” he said.
IGAD is a bloc of eight countries in eastern and Horn of Africa whose leaders, with support of the international community, have helped President Salva Kiir and his archrival and rebel leader Riek Machar ink a peace pact after violence snowballed in the country in 2013.
Uganda was the first to deploy the army to save Mr Kiir’s government from collapsing, and later said its intervention helped South Sudan from slipping into genocide and aided the evacuation of Ugandans and foreigners from the country.
The new Conflict Armament Research report, however, names Uganda in illicit movement of military hardware to Juba in breach of arms embargo imposed by the European Union and the United Nations.
Items that Kampala allegedly receives for and or transfers for or on behalf of South Sudan, the report notes, include “small arms ammunition and larger items like military and surveillance aircraft.”
The report asserts that in the first weeks of the conflict, UPDF deployed two infantry battalions and Mi-24 attack helicopters to South Sudan and in October 2014, South Sudan’s Defence Minister announced a new military cooperation agreement with Uganda.
Uganda, according to the report, “served as a transit country for at least three Mi-24V attack helicopters procured (lawfully) by government of South Sudan which Ukraine exported by air in dissembled form between April and July 2015 for re-assembly in Entebbe as Juba lacked technical capacity.”
Although there was no UN arms embargo in this period, the report demonstrates that a network of jointly-owned Ugandan and American companies controlled by British, Israeli and US nationals, procured a military jet from the US and an Austrian-made surveillance aircraft, which one of these companies delivered into service with the SPLA in 2015 and 2016.
The researchers say they found no reason to suspect the original supplier companies or governments that granted the export licences were aware that the aircraft might be retransferred to South Sudan or that they acted unlawfully.”
The report quotes a March 18, 2014 letter from the then Chief of General Staff of SPLA to Gen Katumba Wamala, then Uganda’s Chief of Defence Forces, requesting UPDF to provide an end-user certificate for the delivery by air of 10,000 rifles and five million rounds of ammunition to Bosasy Company.
This is the same company that contracted with BIEM to ship weapons from Burgas to Entebbe in 2014 for the ostensible end use of the Ugandan armed forces, the report reads in part.
Brig Karemire yesterday repeatedly declined to discuss the report or respond to specific allegations raised.
The report notes that Bulgaria in 2015 reported much larger exports of small arms and ammunition to Uganda, grossing $21m (Shs78b).
Since 1994, the EU has maintained an arms embargo on Sudan which it has since extended to encompass South Sudan following its split from Sudan seven years ago.
Reuters, and international news agency, reports that more than 383,000 people may have died as a result of the South Sudan’s civil war, with around half of the lives lost estimated to be through violence, citing a September 2018 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study.