By Hereward Holland
NAIROBI, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Uganda helped funnel European arms and ammunition to South Sudan at the height of its civil war, circumventing a European Union arms embargo on the East African country, a weapons monitoring group said on Thursday.
British-based Conflict Armament Research (CAR) said South Sudan arranged for the Ugandan government to provide end-user assurances for purchases of weapons and ammunition from Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia.
The weaponry, delivered to Uganda in 2014 and 2015, was then transferred to neighbouring South Sudan, CAR said in a report based on four years of research.
"We have a paper trail from point of manufacture, through export to Uganda, through diversion to South Sudan, and to the recovery of the weapons on the battlefield," said James Bevan, head of CAR.
Uganda's military spokesman declined to comment on the accusations until he had read the report. South Sudan's government spokesman declined requests to comment by phone and email.
The report documented how senior South Sudanese military officials were involved in this process from beginning to end.
The Ugandan government openly provided arms and troops in support of the South Sudanese military in the war that began in 2013. But Uganda's role in the transferring of these weapons has not previously been documented in such detail, Bevan said.
More than a third of South Sudan's 12 million people have been uprooted by the conflict, which erupted two years after South Sudan gained independence in 2011.
The report also documented secret shipments of Sudanese and Chinese-manufactured weapons from Sudan to opposition fighters in South Sudan by air and land from 2014 until at least mid-2015.
Sudan routinely denies supporting rebels in South Sudan's war. Both Sudan and Uganda are key sponsors of the latest peace agreement and are poised to deploy peacekeeping troops into South Sudan.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir signed a peace deal with rebel factions in September. A previous peace deal signed in 2015 fell apart a year later after clashes broke out between government forces and rebels.
Since 1994, the European Union has maintained an arms embargo on Sudan. It extended the ban to cover South Sudan when it split from Sudan seven years ago.
CAR, which identifies and tracks weapons and ammunitions in war zones, said there was no suggestion that the European countries exporting arms to Uganda were complicit or even aware the arms were diverted to South Sudan.
Nonetheless, the retransfers from Uganda to South Sudan may have breached end-use or non-transfer commitments made to exporters as a prior condition of sale, the report said.
The report documented hundreds of weapons and over 200,000 rounds of ammunition used in the conflict across South Sudan.
More than 383,000 people may have died as a result of the South Sudan's civil war, with around half of the lives lost estimated to be through violence, according to a study published in September by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. (Reporting by Hereward Holland Editing by Maggie Fick and Alison Willaims)
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