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Sudan: Arms race grows between North and South

Despite peace agreement, both sides boost weapons to prepare for war.

Since the cargo was released in February 2009, the tanks are thought to be held at the Kenyan army’s Kahawa barracks close to Nairobi. The first and second shipments consisting of anti-aircraft guns, rocket and grenade launchers, assault rifles, tanks, spare parts and ammunition are believed to have reached their destination in southern Sudan.

Before the Faina was hijacked, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) government had already bought 77 tanks, more than a dozen anti-aircraft guns, hundreds of RPGs and tens of thousands of AK47s.

More recently reports have revealed that the southern army, known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), has bought at least 10 Russian Mi-17 helicopters. They are multipurpose aircraft commonly used for transporting troops or equipment but can be converted into gunships.

Over the four years between 2006 and 2009, the southern government’s own figures show that it spent on average 30 percent of its entire budget each year on the military, roughly $2.5 billion. Added to this minimum figure is an unknown amount of off-budget spending.

All these purchases still leave the south vastly outgunned and outnumbered by the North. President Omar al-Bashir’s administration in Khartoum has bought substantial armaments, including dozens of ground attack aircraft, armored personnel carriers and tanks, mostly from China and Iran.

The Small Arms Survey estimates that South Sudan's SPLA troop numbers at 125,000 while the North's Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) is estimated to be 225,000 strong.

Juba’s fixation on anti-aircraft weapons and helicopters is due to the north’s air superiority and long history of using deadly and indiscriminate Antonov bombing raids during the civil war with the south as well as in Darfur more recently.

For its part the SPLA has never before had the capacity to foil aerial raids. MacEvoy described the south’s lack of air capacity as “the SPLA’s weakest point.”

In recent years the SPLA has publicly declared its intention to build up an air force, considered part of its ongoing efforts to ‘professionalize’ the former rebels. U.S. companies DynCorp and PAE are among the contractors training the SPLA into a professional army. Southern officials say that the purchases of new weapons is also part of their bid to form a modern armed force capable of defending the emerging nation.

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