JUBA (HAN) August 1.2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. By JARED FERRIE. Weapons manufactured by China and sold to Sudan have been funnelled to rebels in South Sudan, where two Chinese peacekeepers were recently killed.
The London-based Conflict Armament Research group said that in May it documented 1,300 boxes of ammunition captured by the government military, which is still referred to by its civil war-era name, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Government forces captured the ammunition from a rebel faction of the military known as the SPLA in Opposition, or SPLA-IO.
The ammunition was discovered in northern Unity State, which borders Sudan, and the boxes had been painted to obscure shipping information that showed they originated in China, said Justine Fleischner, group’s South Sudan researcher.
“Despite these efforts, we have identified that the materiel was part of a 2014 consignment to Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service,” she said.
“The consignment date also suggests that the materiel was very quickly diverted to the SPLA-IO in Unity State, presumably by NISS. China is still struggling to co-ordinate its policy between the different actors in the Sudans”
The discovery highlights China’s complicated relationship with both countries, as a long time ally of Sudan as well as a supporter of newly independent South Sudan, where it has major investments in oil.
The find also suggests recent — and potentially ongoing — support to rebels in South Sudan by Sudan, which would be particularly egregious as Khartoum has pledged troops to a proposed African Union peacekeeping force for its neighbour.
“Sudan is playing every card in its hand to ensure it has influence in South Sudan,” said Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies and author of a book about Chinese and Indian oil investments in the countries.
“China is still struggling to co-ordinate its policy between different actors in the Sudans,” he said.
China’s Foreign Ministry in Beijing did not respond to questions about arms deals and its continued commitment to the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, where it has 1,059 soldiers.
South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in 2011 after fighting a decades-long civil war (the second, after an earlier 1955-1972 iteration), during which China sold weapons to the government and China National Petroleum Corp invested heavily in oil production.
A disputed border drawn up at Independence put three quarters of the oil reserves in South Sudan, while most processing facilities and the pipelines to the coast remained in Sudan.
China was then in the awkward position of having to work closely with both countries while border clashes erupted sporadically and Sudan continued to back anti-government militias in the south. That relationship became even messier when South Sudan descended into its own civil war.
In December 2013, tensions within South Sudan’s ruling party boiled over and it split into two factions, roughly along ethnic lines. President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, remains head of the government, while Riek Machar, who is Nuer, leads the breakaway SPLA-IO.
A peace process brokered by the AU stumbled along as both sides committed atrocities against civilians, including rapes and mass murder. Kiir and Machar finally signed a peace agreement and Machar returned to the capital, Juba, but the short-lived deal broke down this month.
Hundreds were killed when fighting erupted in Juba just weeks ago, including two Chinese peacekeepers who died when government forces shelled their position outside the UN mission in South Sudan.