US sanctions ex-Israeli general for $150 million in arms sales to South Sudan

Treasury Department says IDF Maj. Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv supported both government and opposition group, planned attacks by mercenaries to destabilize situation

IDF Maj. Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv speaks to the Kan public broadcaster in March 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)
IDF Maj. Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv speaks to the Kan public broadcaster in March 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)

The United States imposed sanctions on Friday on a retired Israeli major general for allegedly supplying weapons and ammunition to both the government and the opposition in South Sudan.

The Treasury Department also slapped sanctions on a former South Sudanese official and a wealthy South Sudanese businessman for their roles in fueling the conflict.

Israel Ziv, a retired IDF major general and owner of security consulting group Global CST, used an agricultural company “as a cover for the sale of approximately $150 million worth of weapons to the government, including rifles, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired rockets,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

“While Ziv maintained the loyalty of senior Government of South Sudan officials through bribery and promises of security support, he has also reportedly 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,” it said.

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 Treasury Department said sanctions were being imposed on Gregory Vasili who — while governor of Gogrial State in South Sudan in 2017 — “oversaw an explosion of intra-clan ethnic violence that resulted in scores of civilians being killed and thousands displaced from their homes.”

“Separate from his aggravation of local conflict, Vasili has been involved in various illicit activities, including involvement in a major food procurement scandal and winning gas contracts from the South Sudanese military while he was still serving in it,” it said.

The Treasury Department said the other individual being sanctioned was South Sudanese businessman Obac William Olawo, who was accused of being “engaged in the trade and shipment of arms and armaments to South Sudan.”

“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.

“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.

The US also designated six entities owned or controlled by two of those named, without giving details.

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

There was no immediate response from South Sudan’s government, which has bristled at rising US criticism and pressure, including the threat to withdraw aid.

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.

Under the sanctions, the United States 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.

South Sudan has been embroiled in conflict since President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup five years ago.

Since then nearly 400,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes or to the brink of starvation. The sanctions were announced a day before the devastated East African nation marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the fighting. The warring sides signed a new peace deal in September, though fighting and abuses continue in some areas.

Internally displaced people recently arrived in Wau, South Sudan, due to armed clashes in surrounding villages, waiting to be registered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Programme (WFP) on May 11, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN)

Watchdog group The Sentry quickly praised the US move. “Today’s sanctions clearly show the intersection between corruption and armed conflict in South Sudan,” said Joshua White, the group’s director of policy and analysis, in a statement. “We need more of these designations to chip away at the violent kleptocracy.”

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