The catastrophic conditions that confronts war-torn South Sudan will likely worsen in coming months in the face of government intransigence and ineffective regional peace-making efforts, United Nations monitors have warned.
"Absent a change in the current conflict dynamics, the coming dry season will see further fighting and civilian suffering, as the government continues to pursue military victory over political compromise," UN investigators said on Monday.
The UN panel also accused government forces of impeding humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. This, they said, cut-off food supplies to Bagari in the northwestern Upper Nile state.
At least 164 children and elderly people died from hunger and disease in that area between January and September this year, they said. Further, the UN panel said armed forces were using food aid as a weapon of war to target civilians.
In a 35-page report to the Security Council, the UN monitors cited Uganda as abetting President Salva Kiir administration's refusal to end the war.
In addition to allowing arms to reach government forces, Uganda serves as the destination for teak and gold extracted from South Sudan, the panel said. These resources, as well as oil, are sold to finance military operations and enrich South Sudanese elites, the report stated.
Divisions among neighbouring countries, particularly competition between Uganda and Ethiopia for "regional hegemony," are also causing peace initiatives to flounder, the monitors said.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni is said to be more invested in the Kampala-led attempt to reunify three factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) than in moves by the regional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to revitalise the peace agreement.
These parallel processes are "neither complementary nor mutually reinforcing initiatives, despite assertions to the contrary," the report stated.
Kenya, despite its "significant financial interests in South Sudan," has been sidelined from the peacebuilding efforts due to Nairobi's preoccupation with the presidential elections, the monitors said.
Kenya's banking and real-estate sectors, along with those of Uganda, "are key destinations for financial assets and laundered funds from South Sudan," the report noted.
The Kenyan government has additional reasons to remain actively engaged in efforts to end the nearly four-year-long civil war in South Sudan, the monitors suggested.
They cited mounting insecurity in Eastern Equatoria on Kenya's border, which could accelerate an influx of refugees. The panel also pointed to "the continued possibility of armed groups attacking and looting poorly secured Kenyan banks in South Sudan."
South Sudan opposition "has become increasingly diverse and widespread as the conflict has expanded to different parts of the country," the report said.
But the armed rebels are splintered and comparatively weak, the monitors added.
They said exiled opposition leader Riek Machar continues to maintain overall command of the main faction of rebel forces, "although his isolation in South Africa has limited to some degree his day-to-day oversight."
Machar's grip is being further loosened by military gains made by government forces, defections by some of his troops to other opposition groups and "the apparent continued lack of significant military resupply to opposition forces."
Further, the report said South Sudan opposition fighters seem unable to obtain large-scale weapons supplies other than by capturing government arsenals.
The country's army, however, has been resupplied via transhipments of arms through Uganda, the monitors said.
According to "documentary evidence" obtained by the panel, a cargo flight containing 31 tonnes of weapons arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, on August 29.
Kampala-based Bosasy Logistics is listed as the consignee for this shipment, reportedly from Bulgaria, that includes AK-47 rifles, spare magazines, bayonets and ammunition, they said.
"Panel sources claim that these weapons were destined for onward shipment to Juba," the report said.
South Sudan plunged into war in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar, his former deputy, of plotting a coup.
Tens of thousands have died in the fighting and nearly four million have fled their homes.