Addis Ababa -
South Sudanese rights groups on Thursday demanded an international arms embargo for their conflict-wracked nation, as millions of dollars worth of newly-bought weapons fuel an almost nine-month-long civil war.
“As long as these weapons are imported into South Sudan, they are likely to be used to commit further atrocities,” the petition reads, signed by over 30 South Sudanese and international organisations.
Groups who signed the petition, which calls for an “immediate, comprehensive arms embargo”, include the country's Law Society and Human Rights Society.
International groups include Amnesty International, Global Witness and Human Rights Watch.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.8 million have fled a civil war in the country, sparked by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar.
Aid workers have warned of famine if fighting continues.
“Both sides in this conflict have used small arms and light weapons to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the petition reads, sent to east Africa's IGAD bloc, asking them to request a UN Security Council ban.
“These include targeting individuals, including women and children, based on their ethnicity, and killing civilians seeking refuge in hospitals and places of worship.”
IGAD is mediating stalled talks between government and rebels, but is also caught up in the conflict itself, including Uganda, which has sent in troops to support Juba's government.
Guns and ammunition from Sudan, one of Africa's top arms manufacturers, have been used by all sides in the conflict. Shipments of arms have also transited through Kenya.
The fourth IGAD-brokered ceasefire agreed last month broke down after a day, when gunmen shot down a UN helicopter, killing three Russian crew members.
“The urgency of the arms embargo is underlined by events of the past month: a UN helicopter has been shot down, killings continue including of humanitarian workers, and attempts to ensure both sides stop killing civilians have failed,” the petition added.
Weapons experts have confirmed recent shipments totalling $38 million worth of weapons including anti-tank missiles, grenade launchers and assault rifles, supplied by China to the government.
China, a member of the Security Council and a major player in South Sudan's oil fields, is supporting the IGAD peace talks in Ethiopia. - Sapa-AFP