December 16, 2018 / 1:39 PM / 6 months ago

Israel ex-general under U.S. sanctions denies arming South Sudan war

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A retired Israeli army general hit by U.S. sanctions for alleged involvement in the South Sudan conflict denied the charges on Sunday, saying they were based on false information and that he was available for investigation by the Trump administration.

FILE PHOTO: Brigadier-General Yisrael Ziv, commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, speaks at a news conference in Gaza September 3, 2002. REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov/File Photo

The U.S. Treasury on Friday slapped sanctions on Israel Ziv and three firms he controls, accusing him of using an agricultural consultancy as cover for weapons sales worth $150 million (119.2 million pounds) to the Juba government while also arming the opposition.

“He (Ziv) has also reportedly planned to organise attacks by mercenaries on South Sudanese oil fields and infrastructure, in an effort to create a problem that only his company and affiliates could solve,” a Treasury statement said.

Interviewed by Israel’s Army Radio, Ziv said he had never trafficked in weaponry and called the charges against him “ludicrous, baseless, completely divorced from reality”.

“We have an amazing agriculture project there ... that many communities depend on. Tens of thousands of people are employed through this project and it feeds the South Sudan market. So anyone who claims this project is a cover should come see it.”

The Trump administration has championed international arms embargos against South Sudan to pressure President Salva Kiir into ending the country’s civil war and humanitarian crisis.

Two South Sudanese nationals, Obac William Olawo and Gregory Vasili, were named alongside Ziv in Friday’s U.S. Treasury sanctions notice. Neither was immediately available for comment.

“This is not the first time the (U.S.) administration has used sanctions to enforce its foreign policy,” Ziv said.

“I am approachable ... I want to believe in the decency of the administration. And they are welcome to come, to check, to investigate. We will open up everything for them.”

Sudan erupted in conflict in 2013 after Kiir sacked Riek Machar as vice president. Ethnically charged fighting soon spread, shutting down oil fields and forcing millions to flee.

At least 383,000 South Sudanese have died as a result of the war, through combat, starvation, disease or other factors, according to a recent study by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers.

Under pressure from governments in East Africa and from United Nations and Western donors, Machar’s group, other rebel factions and the government in September signed the peace accord under which he will again become vice president.

Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Denis Dumo in Juba, Editing by William Maclean

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