13 May 2012

South Sudan: Former U.S. Official Calls for Arming Army

Washington — The United States should move in to provide ant-aircraft defense systems to South Sudan in order to discourage Khartoum from launching aerial attacks and persuade it into returning to negotiations, former special envoy to Sudan said.

Since South Sudan gained its independence from the north in July 2011, it has accused its northern neighbor of bombarding inside its territories and particularly near the border regions. Some of the bombings were confirmed by UN officials and journalists.

The alleged bombing campaigns intensified particularly after the outbreak of rebellions last year in the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan by the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N).

Khartoum persistently accuses Juba of supporting SPLM-N rebels who fought alongside southerners during the north-south civil war. But South Sudan dismissed the allegations.

This week Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned what she called "indiscriminate" aerial bombings.

"I am saddened and outraged to learn that such attacks which place civilians at great risk - and have already killed and injured some and caused many thousands of others to flee - have been taking place again in recent days," Pillay said.

"Deliberate or reckless attacks on civilian areas can, depending on the circumstances, amount to an international crime," she added.

The newly independent state lacks air defenses which makes it vulnerable to attacks by an external air force.

"South Sudan is less than a year old. Its war with the North is the result of an imbalance of military power that has encouraged military adventurism. Omar al-Bashir, president of the North and a possible coup target, believes he can secure his future by bombing the South into submission instead of negotiating," wrote former U.S. special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios at an Op-ed in the Washington Post

"Although the South has a large, well-motivated ground army, it has no air force or antiaircraft weapons to defend its people" he added.

To correct this situation, the United States should make a decision to arm the south which would be the "only way to end the North's bullying and foster peace talks".

"If the United States provides the materiel, the South can end the North's bombing campaign. Most Northern air force pilots are mercenaries -- if they start taking heavy losses, they will leave Sudan quickly" Natsios said.

The former U.S. official said that the proposition he is making would "create a stalemate and get the North back to the negotiating table".

He noted that the U.S. already provided $30 million worth of military assistance annually to South Sudan since 2006.

Last January president Barack Obama added South Sudan to the list of countries that are eligible to buy weapons from the U.S.

But U.S. officials said this move did not mean that Washington has imminent plans to sell arms to South Sudan.

Analysts say that Washington probably fears misuse of any weapons they sell to South Sudan and may want guarantees from Juba that it will not use to launch an attack inside Sudan.

South Sudan briefly seized the Heglig oilfield inside South Kordofan, which is vital to Sudan's economy because it produced almost half of the country's output of 115,000 bpd.

The ease by which South Sudan took over Heglig caught many in Sudan by surprise prompting calls for resignation of defense minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein.

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