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Iran, Russia Supplying Arms To Sudan, Rights Group Says

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (center) in Khartoum in May
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- Iran and Russia joined China and nine other states as direct weapons suppliers for Sudan after a UN embargo was imposed in 2004, a human rights group has said.

China's position as Khartoum's top arms supplier is well known and has long been criticized by human rights activists and Western governments. Other suspected weapons suppliers, such as Iran, are rarely mentioned.

The New York- and Washington-based activist group Human Rights First said it used public databases to compile data on weapons transfers to Sudan, which was hit with a UN arms embargo due to violence in its western Darfur region, where the Khartoum government has been accused of genocide by the United States and the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.

Sudan rejects the allegations of genocide and has said it would never hand over either of the two men indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes in Darfur. The court's prosecutor in July asked the ICC to indict Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as well.

Human Rights First said China had probably provided tens of millions of dollars of arms to Sudan since 2004, despite its declared weapon sales value of less than $1 million.

There are other suppliers, the group alleges.

"Iran reports total arms sales of over $12 million to Sudan, including almost $8 million worth of tanks," it said.

That is consistent with information from Western diplomats, who have told Reuters that Tehran was selling Khartoum arms in an attempt to cement ties and deepen military cooperation with Khartoum.

Sudan's UN envoy could not be reached for comment and the spokesman for Iran's UN mission was also unavailable.

Sudan's UN ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, told Reuters last month that Western powers were shifting attention from China because the Beijing Olympics were over and they were now trying to paint Sudan-Iran relations in a negative light to embarrass and increase pressure on Khartoum.

Western diplomats say cooperation between Iran and Sudan makes sense given that both countries feel harassed by the West and are on the agenda of the UN Security Council, Sudan for Darfur and Iran because of its nuclear program.

India, Russia Also Suppliers

India is another arms supplier to Sudan, the report said. It said India claimed to have supplied only $200,000 worth of arms, but an Indian defense firm entered into contracts worth over $17 million in 2005 "to provide battlefield surveillance radar, communication equipment, and night vision equipment."

Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has sold Sudan "33 new military aircraft since 2004, and has reportedly provided training, advisers, and pilots for Russian aircraft in the Sudanese air force," the report said.

"Some Russian pilots have reportedly flown missions over Darfur," the group added.

Other direct arms suppliers are Belarus, Cyprus, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey, it said.

There are other countries listed as indirect suppliers -- states whose arms have ended up in Sudan but not necessarily due to direct sales. Those countries include the United States, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and Britain.