Beijing castigated over Darfur, but Russia supplied five times more arms

On January 11, 2007, two A-5 Fantan fighter jets rumbled into Nyala airport in southern Darfur.

The world was taking notice of the civil war ravaging Sudan, killing countless thousands and displacing as many as 2.5 million people - some of them to refugee camps outside Nyala.

Made in China, the Fantan jets quickly captured the attention of United Nations experts, who said Sudan's government had violated an arms embargo by deploying them. Later, a BBC News documentary, China's Secret War, linked the fighter planes to an attack on civilians, including children, in the western Darfur town of Beybey.

It was examples like these, along with China's oil trade with Sudan, that built an international campaign against the 'Genocide Olympics' in 2008.

But data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute paints a different picture. The biggest supplier of major military hardware to Sudan from 2001 to 2008 was not China but Russia, according to an analysis by two political scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Russia supplied five times as many attack helicopters, fighter jets and other arms to Sudan during this period, the study by Paul Midford and Indra de Soysa found. Its sales included Mi-24 gunship helicopters, the 'predominant air assault tool in Darfur' - used frequently against civilians, according to a report by the watchdog group Human Rights First. China was a distant second source of arms, followed closely by Belarus. Ukraine also supplied arms, according to the study.

'There's a lot of high emotion - justifiably - on Sudan and Darfur,' says Robert Sutter, a former US intelligence officer who teaches Chinese foreign relations at Georgetown University in Washington. He found the results of the study unsurprising. 'It put a lot of spotlight on arms sales. But it's not a good indicator... China doesn't sell these weapons. The US does.'