GUY RAZ, host:
A new round of State Department cables released by the website WikiLeaks suggests that the U.S. government may have turned a blind eye to arms shipments headed for Southern Sudan.
As the cables show, it all that changed after one of the shipments was hijacked by Somali pirates. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: In the autumn of 2008, a Ukrainian ship, loaded with nearly three dozen Soviet tanks was heading towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa. The ultimate destination for the tanks was Southern Sudan.
Along the way, the ship was hijacked by Somali pirates. Not only did it take several months, and more than $3 million to release the ship, but leaked State Department cables show the incident also put the U.S. government in an awkward position.
The cables show that Washington, during the George W. Bush administration, knew of other weapons shipments to Southern Sudan and allowed them to go through, including 67 other tanks. Under a comprehensive peace agreement between North and Southern Sudan, the South Sudanese government has the right to buy weapons in an effort to transform their militias into a regular defense force, says Ted Dagne, an Africa specialist with the bipartisan Congressional Research Service.
Mr. TED DAGNE (Africa Specialist, Congressional Research Service): What that means is that by purchasing arms using their own resources, they're not in violation of any U.N. Security Council resolution or, for that matter, violation of the comprehensive peace agreement.
NORTHAM: But the leaked State Department cables show that the Obama administration balked at allowing more weapons shipments to go through. The cables reveal how U.S. diplomats pressured their Ukrainian and Kenyan counterparts, to the point of threatening them with sanctions. The cables also show the Kenyan diplomats expressing confusion about the shift in U.S. policy.
In a December 2009 cable, Kenyan officials asked American diplomats whether there had been a major policy reversal because past transfers of weapons to Southern Sudan had been done in consultation with the U.S.
Ted Dagne says the U.S. continues to provide security assistance to the South and that in June this year, the Kenyans were told they could deliver the tanks but were asked to hold off until after January, when the Southern Sudanese will decide in a referendum whether to break from the North. The State Department would not comment on the claim.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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