A United Nations panel of experts found evidence of “well-established networks” of arms suppliers in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, including from Israel, that are fueling the war in South Sudan.
In a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by AFP on Thursday, the panel described the arms deals that are not recent and involve Israeli and Bulgarian firms.
The Council has threatened to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan to try to end the fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people and driven 2.5 million from their homes.
While the arms deals date back to 2014 or earlier, “this evidence nevertheless illustrates the well-established networks through which weapons procurement is coordinated from suppliers in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and then transferred through middlemen in eastern Africa to South Sudan,” said the report.
The panel said fighters loyal to the South Sudanese rebel leader Reik Machar recently turned up in the Democratic Republic of Congo armed with Israeli-made automatic rifles that were part of a stock sold to Uganda in 2007.
The weapons were likely taken from South Sudanese government stocks either through battlefield capture or defections, said the report sent to the council last week.
The panel said the Israeli-made rifles were likely part of a larger group of weapons that was transferred to South Sudan from Uganda.
After receiving a tip from Spain, the UN experts are looking into an arms trafficking network based in Europe that received an “extensive list of small arms, munitions and light weapons” from the rebels in 2014.
The deal which also involved a middleman from Senegal provided for shipments that were at least partially delivered, they said.
A Bulgarian firm delivered a shipment of small arms ammunition and 4,000 assault rifles to Uganda in July 2014, which were later transferred to South Sudan.
The firm, Bulgarian Industrial Engineering, worked through an intermediary in Uganda identified as Bosasy Logistics, whose chairman Valerii Copeichin is a Moldovan national.
The report said recent arms supplies were likely to have been made “through the same modality.”
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has called on the Council to move quickly to cut off the arms flow, but Russia opposes the move while African countries have expressed reservations.
“I think an arms embargo should happen now and that’s even very late,” Ladsous told reporters on Tuesday.
“The rainy season is coming to a close and that has frequently been the time of the year when people go back to military operations.”
The Council said it will impose an arms embargo if UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon determines that the government in Juba is blocking the deployment of a UN-mandated regional force.
South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of plotting a coup.
The nearly three-year war has been marked by appalling numbers of rapes and killings.