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Chinese arms in Darfur: the twisted trail of weapons

The recent Amnesty International (AI) report entitled China: Sustaining Conflict and Human Rights Abuses highlights China’s arms trade to Sudan . The report alleges that China recently supplied Sudan with more than 200 military trucks. According to AI, these trucks were used to transport Sudanese military personnel and the Janjaweed militia members. Moreover, AI states that these trucks were used to deliver people to their executions. Additionally, in 1996, China sold troop transporting Z-6 helicopters to Sudan. While China claims its arms transfers are “cautious and responsible,” their claim is impossible to verify because the Chinese government stopped submitting data to the UN Register of Conventional Arms in 1997. Although it is difficult to determine the true measure of China’s arms export to Sudan, China has shipped small arms to Sudan; Sudanese purchases of Chinese arms began with the Nimeiri government in 1969. These purchases continued and rose in the 1990s due to Sudan’s civil war and the promise of increased state revenues derived from improved oil production. According to an unidentified Sudanese government official, China sold Sudan tanks, helicopters, fighter aircraft, and antipersonnel and antitank mines. China has a vested interested in aiding the current Sudanese government. By the early 1990s, the Chinese government projected that its domestic oil production would not keep pace with the increased demand for oil required by its burgeoning economy. As a result, China began investing heavily in foreign oil reserves. China’s state-run media described China’s National Petroleum Company (CNPC) project in Sudan as the company’s biggest overseas project to date. Therefore, China must ensure that oil from Sudan keeps flowing. Arms can be supplied easily and quietly to any country or insurgent group in the world, regardless of UN sanctions or arms embargos. According to a PBS Frontline Special Report, as of May 2002, there were approximately 550 million small arms in circulation globally. Thousands of these weapons come from weak or indifferent government with arsenals that are exposed to theft, loss, and diversion. It is not uncommon for a national government to fail to monitor the final destination of its small arms exports; therefore, these weapons can easily end up in irresponsible hands. Once arms traders obtain weapons, they can be smuggled across national borders regardless of UN arms embargos. According to Tom Ofcansky , an former African affairs analyst with the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, “the problem at the end of the Cold War with regard to small arms, I think, was the massive availability and the failure of the international community to track these arms. A few planeloads of arms going to an African country just didn’t make the cut, in terms of an issue governments would want to pay attention to. But the impact of a few planeloads of arms, as we’ve seen repeatedly in Africa, had a devastating impact on fragile African societies.” There are numerous deleterious effects of this illicit international small arms market. As demonstrated by the situation in Darfur, the most damaging effects of the illegal arms trade is that it fuels regional conflict. These regional conflicts, in turn, contribute directly and indirectly to countless civilian deaths. According to the Small Arms Survey, small arms and light weapons account for approximately 60-90% of the more than 100,000 deaths in conflict zones yearly and tens of thousands of deaths outside of war zones.

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