South Sudan, Israeli ex-general deny arms deals, reject US sanctions

Government insists Israel Ziv only worked on local agricultural projects; retired Israeli general calls US allegations he fueled conflict ‘ludicrous and baseless’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

In this photo taken August 19, 2017,  government soldiers cross over to the west bank of the Nile in order to patrol the front lines, in the town of Kuek, northern Upper Nile state, South Sudan. (AP/Sam Mednick)
In this photo taken August 19, 2017, government soldiers cross over to the west bank of the Nile in order to patrol the front lines, in the town of Kuek, northern Upper Nile state, South Sudan. (AP/Sam Mednick)

The government of South Sudan has denied purchasing weapons from retired IDF Maj. Gen. Israel Ziv, saying the US decision to impose sanctions against him and two others was based on false information.

Ziv as well denied that his firm ever dealt in the illegal arms trade, days after the US announced penalties against him and others for their role in the country’s civil war.

A spokesman from the president’s office in Juba told the local Radio Tamazuj on Monday that South Sudan has “never bought weapons and ammunition from the retired Israeli general because he [was] working in the agricultural sector here.”

Ateny Wek Ateny denied that Ziv, former governor Gregory Vasili and businessman Obac William Olawo fueled the conflict in the war-torn country.

“General Gregory did not lead any militia group throughout the conflict, so the sanctions imposed on him were based on false information,” Ateny said. “With respect to Obac, he is actually a renowned businessman. He has never supplied armored vehicles and weapons for the government.”

On Friday, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Ziv, Vasili and Olawo for their alleged roles in South Sudan’s civil war and humanitarian crisis.

In this file photo taken on April 25, 2016, rebel troops of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) unload their weapons at their military site in Juba. (Albert Gonzalez Farran / AFP)

The US accused Ziv of using his consulting company Global CST as a cover for approximately $150 million in weapons sales to both the government and the opposition in South Sudan.

The statement said Ziv also “planned to organize attacks by mercenaries on South Sudanese oil fields and infrastructure, in an effort to create a problem that only his company and affiliates could solve.”

Under the sanctions, the US will seize any assets of the three in the United States and ban any US-based financial transactions with them or companies controlled by them.

Ziv categorically rejected the US allegations on Monday, telling Israel’s Army Radio in an interview that Global CST never engaged in illegal arms dealing, and said he welcomed an investigation into his firm.

He called the charges against him “ludicrous, baseless and completely divorced from reality,” and said many communities in South Sudan were dependent on CST’s agricultural initiative.

Major General (Res.) Israel Ziv speaks in Tel Aviv, December 06, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“Tens of thousands of people are employed through this project and it feeds the South Sudan market,” he said. “So anyone who claims this project is a cover should come see it.”

The Trump administration was “welcome to come, to check and investigate. We will open up everything for them,” Ziv said.

South Sudan has been embroiled in conflict since President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup five years ago. Ethnically charged fighting erupted soon after and since then, nearly 400,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes or to the brink of starvation. The warring sides signed a new peace deal in September, though fighting and abuses continue in some areas.

Israeli activist Eitay Mack has for years accused Israel’s Defense Ministry of allowing sales of arms to South Sudan, despite arms embargoes.

Jerusalem has long viewed South Sudan as an important ally and a counterweight to neighboring Sudan’s support for Islamic Palestinian terrorists. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Kiir several times, including during a visit to Israel months after independence was declared.

A UN report in 2016 said Israeli surveillance equipment was being used by South Sudanese intelligence, allowing it to intercept communications in a “significantly enhanced” crackdown on government opponents.

The report also found that an Israeli automatic rifle known as the Micro Galil is “present in larger numbers than before the outbreak of the conflict.” It accused Israel of helping fuel the civil war.

The US sanctions announced Friday accused Vasili of overseeing “an explosion of intra-clan ethnic violence” and led a militia as governor of Gogrial state until the government removed him late last year. Olawo, the Treasury said, “routinely imported standard and armored vehicles for the government of South Sudan, and as of mid-2018 was engaged in the trade and shipment of arms.”

“Treasury is targeting individuals who have provided soldiers, armored vehicles, and weapons used to fuel the conflict in South Sudan,” said Sigal Mandelker, under secretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence on Friday.

“We are intent on holding accountable those who profit off the misery and suffering of the South Sudanese people and facilitate violence against civilians,” Mandelker said.

Members of the opposition troops hold weapons near their base in Thonyor, South Sudan, on April 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran)

Washington has expressed growing exasperation over South Sudan and those it says are blocking the path to peace. It led efforts in the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country earlier this year.

Last week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the Trump administration was reviewing US assistance to the country.

South Sudan’s government has bristled at rising US criticism and pressure, including the threat to withdraw aid.

On Monday, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry slammed the US sanctions against Ziv, Vasili and Olawo, saying the move “was designed to undermine the implementation of the peace agreement in South Sudan.”

The statement called on the Trump administration “to engage in a more positive manner than doubling on these threats of sanctions and embargos, which serves no useful purpose.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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