UN set to impose arms embargo on war-torn South Sudan

Israel, which has forged close ties with country, has been accused of selling guns and surveillance equipment that have helped fuel civil war

FILE - In this Thursday, May 18, 2017, file photo, soldiers cheer at a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), attended by President Salva Kiir, in the capital Juba, South Sudan. (AP /Samir Bol)
FILE - In this Thursday, May 18, 2017, file photo, soldiers cheer at a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), attended by President Salva Kiir, in the capital Juba, South Sudan. (AP /Samir Bol)

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council is set to vote Friday on a resolution that would impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions against a current deputy defense chief and former army chief.

The final draft resolution, obtained Thursday, expresses “deep concern” at the failure of South Sudan’s leaders to end hostilities and condemns “the continued and flagrant violation” of agreements to stop fighting.

The US-sponsored resolution needs a minimum of nine “yes” votes for adoption by the 15-member council. Diplomats said they expected a number of abstentions though no veto.

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the world’s newest nation plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 didn’t stop the fighting, and neither did a cessation of hostilities agreement this past December and a declaration on June 27.

Israel, which was one of the first countries to recognize South Sudan when it declared independence in 2011, has been accused of selling a variety of weapons and military equipment to the war-torn country, including assault rifles, drones and surveillance technology.

In this file photo taken April 14, 2016, government soldiers follow orders to raise their guns during a military parade in Juba, South Sudan. (AP Photo/Justin Lynch, File)

A resolution adopted by the council May 31 threatened an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions against six people if Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported by June 30 that fighting had not stopped and a political agreement wasn’t reached. Guterres said in a June 29 letter to the council that “there have been credible reports of fighting” and UN peacekeepers had documented serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law

A UN report released Tuesday said South Sudan government troops and allied fighters killed at least 232 civilians in a five-week period this year, hanging some people from trees and burning others alive. It said the “deliberate, ruthless” attacks might amount to war crimes.

A young child soldier sits on the ground at a release ceremony, where he and others laid down their weapons and traded in their uniforms to return to “normal life,” in Yambio, South Sudan, February 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

At one point during the negotiations on the current draft resolution, seven people would have been added to the sanctions list. But the final draft would add only add two: Malek Reuben Riak Rengu, the deputy chief of the defense staff for logistics, and Paul Malong Awan, the former chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

The resolution would also order all countries to immediately prevent the direct or indirect supply or sale of weapons, ammunition, military vehicles and other equipment and spare parts to South Sudan until May 31, 2019. And it would extend existing sanctions against South Sudanese officials until that date.

The draft resolution says that arms shipments “risk fueling conflict and contributing to further instability and strongly urges all member states to take urgent action to identify and prevent such shipments within their territory.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley arrives in Juba, South Sudan, Wednesday, October 25, 2017. (AP Photo)

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council in January that the United States was giving up on South Sudan’s president after backing the country’s independence and investing over $11 billion since 2011. She called Kiir “an unfit partner” in the pursuit of peace and urged an arms embargo on the conflict-racked nation.

Jerusalem has long viewed South Sudan as an important ally and a counterweight to neighboring Sudan’s support for Islamic Palestinian militants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with South Sudanese leader Salva Kiir several times, including during a visit 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.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December 2011. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

According to the report, Israel sold the rifles to Uganda in 2007, which transferred the weapons to South Sudan’s National Security Service in 2014. According to the report, Israel said it didn’t receive a request from Uganda for the transfer.

Eitay Mack, an Israeli lawyer who has sued to stop the arms sales, said weapons export licenses require knowledge of end users and mid users — meaning the transfer would either have been done with Israel’s knowledge or would have prompted an investigation into the offending company. He said no investigation was known to have been opened.

The UN report also said Israeli ACE rifles were used in a massacre that targeted Nuer citizens in Juba in 2013.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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