Sudan: Kenya 'conduit' of weapons as south 'arms race' begins

Nairobi (Kenya) — Kenya has been named in a report by a Swiss research institute as the conduit for many of the weapons transferred to Southern Sudan government forces in violation of a peace agreement strongly backed by the United States.

The Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment, which is a multi-year research project administered by the Small Arms Survey - an independent research project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies - reported that satellite imagery has confirmed the presence at Southern Sudan military headquarters of tanks that arrived at the port of Mombasa in 2008.

These T-72 tanks were part of three weapons shipments from Ukraine "ostensibly consigned to the Kenyan Ministry of Defence" but that were in fact under contract to the Government of Southern Sudan, according to the Small Arms Survey. In addition to tanks, the three shipments in 2007 and 2008 are said to include 122 mm vehicle-mounted rocket launchers, 14.5 mm machine guns, 23 mm anti-aircraft cannon, RPG-7 rocket launchers and AKM assault rifles.

Some of these arms transfers to South Sudan forces were facilitated by a Mombasa-based shipping agency run by a British national, the survey says. It does not name the agency.

The researchers warn that an "arms race" is underway in Sudan, with the national government in Khartoum and the SPLM-led government in the South both acquiring large quantities of weapons.

The United States is meanwhile warning that shipments of arms into Southern Sudan are heightening insecurity there in the run-up to a referendum that could result in the region's secession.

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice did not directly answer a reporter's question last week about Kenya's reported involvement in this illicit arms trade. "In a region where you have porous borders," Ms Rice said in response, "there are undoubtedly weapons coming from all directions."

The US envoy added that the task now is to identify the principal source of the shipments and to answer the question, "Is this simply small arms trafficking of the sort that we see throughout the continent or is it actually a deliberate effort to sow instability?"

Ms Rice spoke with reporters following a January 26 UN Security Council meeting on developments in Sudan. She said UN officials had indicated that heavier weapons now appear to be reaching the South. Specific information on the shipments has not been provided, Ms Rice added.

Violence is escalating in Southern Sudan, which had been at war with Khartoum for 20 years. The UN reports that more than 2000 people were killed in clashes among tribal militias last year. Some of the incidents involved thousands of heavily armed attackers, the UN says.

International monitors worry that the 2005 peace agreement could break down in the coming months, leading to a resumption of the war that killed an estimated two million Sudanese. Tensions are growing as the antagonists prepare for a scheduled 2011 referendum in the South on the question of whether the region should claim independence."The international community appears completely unprepared to put out the fire that is likely to start in the event of a [peace treaty] breakdown," the Small Arms Survey says. "It has singularly failed to prevent ongoing weapons flows into this highly volatile environment to date."

The US government under George W Bush invested considerable diplomatic effort to bring about the peace agreement. And the Obama administration appears determined to prevent that achievement from coming undone.

The State Department has meanwhile contracted with private companies to help train South Sudan's armed forces. The US says that arrangement does not contravene the peace treaty, which forbids arms shipments to the South without the joint approval of its government and the Khartoum government.

The Small Arms Survey report was made public as President Mwai Kibaki last week met Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir, who paid him a courtesy call at his Harambee House office in Nairobi.

At their meeting, President Kibaki said Kenya was committed to enhanced security along the two countries' common border through regular cross border meetings and other forms of security co-operation.

During the meeting which was also attended by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the Presidential Press Service reports, President Kiir briefed President Kibaki on the progress in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which was signed in Nairobi in January 2005.

President Kiir appreciated the role Kenya has continued to play during the entire peace process in Southern Sudan through immense support in various forms.

President Kibaki reassured the Southern Sudan delegation that Kenya, Igad and the AU would remain actively engaged in the successful implementation of the CPA due to the far reaching implications for the region's security.

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang'ula was not available for comment but Assistant Minister for Internal Security Joshua Orua Ojode dismissed the report as "rumours" and demanded evidence. "The Kenya government does not trade in arms and respects the territorial integrity of other countries. But if there is evidence, we are ready to investigate," he said.

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