War in Sudan: the Kerry connection
In a rebel base across the mountains, other SPLM-N fighters display weapons newly captured from the government forces. Iranian anti-personnel land mines, Chinese rockets and cluster bombs and Greek-made mortar bombs are among the contents of a pile of boxes camouflaged under some trees.
Capt Abdula Jumlah, commander of Jebel Kwo military base, near the village of Tess, declares that “the world needs to see what weapons Khartoum is using and where they are getting them”.
He accuses Iran and China of being the main suppliers of arms to the regime of President Omar al-Bashir, which then uses them against the civilian population of the region.
Among the recently seized weaponry, the rebels claim to have a pilotless drone that they say was shot down near a place called Jaw in mid-March. Aidan Hartley, a reporter for Channel 4’s Unreported World, was shown the aircraft in April. He said it was “filled with Iranian technology and had an engine part stamped with the markings of Irish company Tillotson”. Hartley noted that in 2009, an almost identical drone was shot down in Darfur and was found to contain technology manufactured in the UK and sold via an Iranian front company based in Dubai.
The rebel fighters here in the Nuba Mountains now display images of the drone component, which clearly bears the Tillotson name and the words “Made in Ireland”.
The apparent Irish connection astonishes Jumlah, the rebel commander. “I cannot understand how Ireland, a democratic nation whose people fought so hard for their freedom, could help a regime controlled by a man formally accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.”
He says that under UN and EU regulations, knowingly supplying military technology to Iran or Sudan is illegal.
Jonah Leff of Small Arms Survey, an international weapons-monitoring group, says the issue of components for the drone in question is a complex one. “If this constitutes a sanctions violation, it would be on its sale to Iran, not to Khartoum,” he explains.
“UN sanctions on Sudan only apply to the transfer of military equipment into Darfur. If an Irish company knowingly sold the carburettor for use with military aircraft to Iran after the imposition of the arms embargo, it would represent a violation. There is the possibility, however, that the Irish company first sold the part to a third party, who then resold it to Iran, in which case would make the third party the responsible violator.”
Tillotson, a US company with a branch in the Clash Industrial Estate in Tralee, Co Kerry, states on its website that its HR Series diaphram carburettor can be used in what it describes as a “military spy drone”. John Mason, managing director of Tillotson, says his company complies with export regulations. “We can’t confirm whether the parts on the carburettor [found in Sudan] were manufactured by us,” he told The Irish Times. “We know there are a lot of fake Tillotson carburettors and parts in the market and would need to see the actual part to confirm whether it is genuine. I can confirm that to the best of our knowledge, all our carburettors are exported within all applicable regulations.”