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Iran, Russia supply arms to Sudan: rights group

Says 30 countries at risk of violating Darfur arms embargo

Thirty countries are at risk of violating the United Nations arms embargo on Darfur by either directly or indirectly exporting arms to Sudan, a human rights group said in a report published on Tuesday.

While many of the countries whose weapons are being sent to Sudan by third parties claim they are investigating the situation and working to stop the transfers, they are falling short of the U.N. embargo's requirement that countries must take all possible measures to prevent arms from entering Darfur, the Human Rights First report said.

The report, dismissed by Sudan as a tool of Western pressure, divided the countries into two categories: direct suppliers and producers.

Direct suppliers

Iran and Russia joined China, India and eight other states in supplying weapons directly to Sudan despite a U.N. embargo that has been in effect since 2004.

China's position as Khartoum's top arms supplier is well known and has long been criticized by human rights activists and Western governments. Other suspected weapons suppliers, such as Iran, have rarely been mentioned.

The report identified several Western countries, including the United States, Switzerland, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as weapons producers, based on Sudan's claims that their arms ended up in Sudan.

The U.S.-based activist group Human Rights First said it used public databases to compile the data on weapons transfers to Sudan.

Genocide allegations

Some of the producer nations denied their role in the weapons transfers and the report noted that "it is likely that these countries did not directly sell weapons to Sudan but that the weapons were transferred by a third country" or that the government of Sudan "sees political advantage in over or underreporting arms transfers from particular countries."

Sudan was hit with a U.N. arms embargo in 2004 to keep weapons out of its western Darfur region, where Khartoum has been accused of genocide by the United States and the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.

Sudan has rejected the genocide allegations and said it would never hand over either of the two men indicted by The Hague-based ICC for war crimes in Darfur. The ICC prosecutor in July asked the court's judges to indict Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as well.

Human Rights First said China had probably provided tens of millions of dollars of arms to Sudan since 2004, despite its declared weapon sales value of less than $1 million.

"Iran reports total arms sales of over $12 million to Sudan, including almost $8 million worth of tanks," it said.

That is consistent with information from Western diplomats, who have told Reuters that Tehran was selling Sudan arms in an attempt to cement ties and deepen military cooperation.

India is another arms supplier to Sudan, the report said. It said India claimed to have supplied only $200,000 worth of arms, but an Indian defense firm entered into contracts worth over $17 million in 2005 "to provide battlefield surveillance radar, communication equipment and night vision equipment."

Sudanese dismissal

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, told Reuters that groups like Human Rights First were "just branches of Western intelligence in the garb of human rights."

"We dismiss them," he said, adding that the timing of the report showed it was an attempt by Western powers to link Iran's and Sudan's cases and increase pressure on Khartoum.

He did not deny that Sudan bought weapons from abroad. "We have the right to import arms from anywhere we wish," he said.

Western diplomats say cooperation between Iran and Sudan makes sense given that both countries feel harassed by the West and are on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council, Sudan for Darfur and Iran because of its nuclear program.

Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has sold Sudan "33 new military aircraft since 2004, and has reportedly provided training, advisers and pilots for Russian aircraft in the Sudanese air force," according to the report.

"Some Russian pilots have reportedly flown missions over Darfur," the group added.

Other direct arms suppliers are Belarus, Cyprus, Kenya, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey, it said.