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S. Sudan leaders 'profiting from conflict'

Timothy JonesSeptember 12, 2016

A watchdog report accuses South Sudan's leaders of amassing vast wealth amid a deadly civil war. It says money that could help the poverty-stricken nation is going toward weapons purchases, among other things.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Dhil

The report by the US-based watchdog group The Sentry, co-founded by US actor George Clooney, says many top South Sudanese officials have managed to "accumulate fortunes" while much of the rest of the country suffers the negative consequences of years of civil conflict.

It says President Salva Kiir (right, in above photo), his former deputy Riek Machar (left), and people closely associated with them have formed rival "kleptocratic" networks seeking control over state assets and the country's natural resources. These networks were exploiting ethnic divisions to fuel a conflict that served the interests only of top leaders, according to the report.

Several members of both Kiir and Machar's familes were living in mansions outside of the country, and held commercial ventures in lucrative business sectors, although nepotism is prohibited by law, The Sentry said in its report, entitled "War Crimes Shouldn't Pay."

Family interests

Among other things, The Sentry said it had uncovered documents indicating that Kiir's 12-year-old son held a 25 percent stake in a holding company, while other information suggested that at least seven of the president's children as well as his wife had held stakes in numerous businesses operating in the country.

The report claimed that a system of international banks, businesses, arms brokers, real estate firms and lawyers was facilitating the corrupt practices of many South Sudanese officials, with large payments being made to the personal bank accounts of high-ranking generals by foreign companies.

The Sentry made a number of recommendations in its report to stem the corruption. These included the imposition of international sanctions, and encouraging the country's neighbors to combat the laundering of assets looted from South Sudan and to impose asset freezes of officials behind human rights violations and financial misconduct.

Südsudan Flüchtlinge an der Grenze Uganda-Südsudan
More than 2 million people have fled their homes amid the conflictImage: Getty Images/AFP/I. Kasamani

Devastating conflict

South Sudan, the world's newest state, was plunged into conflict soon after Kiir fired Machar from his post as vice president in 2013. A peace deal reached a year ago has failed to stop fighting, and Machar fled the country in recent weeks.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians, and some 2.3 million displaced as of July 2016. An estimated 5.1 million people are in need of food assistance, according to the report.

The war has been characterized by atrocities committed by both sides, including mass rape, the use of child soldiers and the indiscriminate razing of towns and villages. The country was described by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in March as "one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world."