UNAMID to Shut Down Peacekeeping Operations in Darfur as Khartoum Expands Oil Exploration: What Now?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

unamid 1With plans to boost production in its hard-pressed oil sector, Sudan is looking to establish full control over northern Darfur, where new exploration and drilling projects are planned to help replace the oil production lost in the 2010 separation of oil-rich South Sudan, which represented nearly 75% of Sudan’s pre-separation output. There are hopes for new development in northern Darfur’s Block 12A concession, worked by Saudi Arabia’s al-Qahtani company, and Block 14, where South Africa’s PetroSA has engaged in exploration work in the desolate regions near Sudan’s northern borders with Libya and Egypt (Middle East Eye, March 20, 2015). The Sudanese Ministry of Oil also expects to bring new wells in eastern Darfur’s Abu Karinka region into production later this year (Radio Dabanga, February 17, 2015). As continued rebel activity in Darfur threatens new government revenue streams, Khartoum is eager to consolidate full control over the unsettled region and eliminate international meddling in what the regime considers an internal matter. To this end, Khartoum is seeking the withdrawal of the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), a large, expensive and relatively ineffectual peacekeeping mission that the regime nonetheless regards as an irritant in its efforts to reshape Darfur’s ethnic composition.

A working group of Sudanese, United Nations and African Union representatives met on March 17 to begin drawing up a strategy for UNAMID’s eventual withdrawal from Darfur. [1]The group, acting under pressure from Khartoum for a speedy withdrawal, will present a report to the UN Security Council by the end of May.

UNAMID, self-described as a “joint hybrid” operation involving UN and African Union forces, conducts its affairs under a UN Charter Chapter VII mandate which allows for armed measures to protect civilians as well as “such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” [2]

Impetus for the withdrawal was provided by a late 2014 dispute between Khartoum and UNAMID over the latter’s demands for a transparent investigation into reports of mass-rape by Sudanese security forces in the town of Tabit. The UN claimed its own initial investigation was hampered by a massive military and police presence in the town focused on intimidating witnesses. In yet another display of the acrobatic approach to logic his regime has become famous for, President Omar Bashir claimed that the mass rapes proved “UNAMID has failed to protect civilians and [has] instead become protector to the rebels” (Sudan Tribune, December 1, 2014).  By February, Khartoum was demanding the complete withdrawal of UNAMID (Sudan Tribune, February 19, 2015).

After the Congo-based MONUSCO (see Congo article in this issue), UNAMID is the world’s second largest peacekeeping force with an annual budget in excess of $1.3 billion. The UN is not against at least making the forcer leaner and more effective – a recent internal review of UNAMID activities concluded that many of the units serving in the peacekeeping force were incompetent and should be sent home (Reuters, March 11, 2015).

The Rebellion Twelve Years On

Though the pace is slower, the rebellion in Darfur against the central government continues. The Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) claimed to have taken the SAF garrison at Rokoro in central Darfur on March 13, seizing large quantities of arms and war materiel after killing 58 militiamen and SAF personnel (Radio Dabanga, March 13, 2015). While raids of this type continue, the leadership of an ever-proliferating number of new rebel movements continue to flirt with the regime, accepting integration into government security forces at one moment, and deserting to resume rebellion in the next. Many of these acronym movements seek nothing more than favorable concessions and/or salaries from the central government in exchange for laying down arms. A long string of government settlements with these minor movements has done little to restore security in Darfur so long as the major non-signatory movements (such as the Zaghawa-led Justice and Equality Movement [JEM], the Sudan Liberation Army- Minni Minawi [SLA-MM – largely Zaghawa] and the SLA-AW [largely Fur]) cannot be enticed to reach an agreement with the regime in Khartoum, which is deeply distrusted by the major movements.

Three reports presented to the UN Security Council on March 18 by Hervé Ladsous, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, suggested that the security situation in Darfur is actually deteriorating due to “the ongoing Government of Sudan and the Rapid Support Forces’ military offensive.” [3]  Noting that government forces had weakened the rebel formations in Darfur, Ladsous also noted that this success had come at the cost of a rate of displacement that was now higher than at any previous time since the rebellion began in 2003 (Radio Dabanga, March 18, 2015). Meanwhile, security issues remain unaddressed, with government troops and militiamen continuing to commit gang-rapes of “non-Arab” women and girls across Darfur. While senior officers routinely maintain they are searching for the culprits, these searches apparently do not extend to government barracks.

An Epidemic of Tribal Warfare

Beyond the ongoing conflict between various rebel movements and government troops and/or allied militias (now in its 12th year), Darfur now finds itself caught up in a plague of tribal conflicts, often encouraged by local and central government authorities.

Arab Rizeigat and Fellata clashed in southern Darfur last year after Rizeigat tribesmen prevented Fellata (the Kanuri term by which members of the Fulani/Peul ethnic group are known in Darfur) livestock traders from crossing their lands (Radio Dabanga, October 1, 2014).

In recent weeks, dozens have been killed or wounded in clashes between the Fellata and the Salamat, a nomadic group claiming Arab heritage, many of whom were encouraged by Khartoum to migrate into Darfur from their homes in Chad and northeast Niger to occupy lands from which Black Africans had been expelled by the paramilitary Janjawid and elements of the Sudanese Army. As is often the case, the spark behind the conflict was relatively trivial (the theft of some cows, not an unknown occurrence in Darfur), but the proliferation of modern firearms in the highly racialized atmosphere promoted by the regime of President Omar al-Bashir now tends to turn every minor conflict into a series of massacres and counter-massacres. Matters are complicated by a government-encouraged turn away from elders’ councils and other traditional and moderating forms of influence in the so-called “Arab” tribes of Darfur in favor of younger leaders eager to nourish more direct ties to Khartoum in return for arms, cash and the influence these commodities wield in their communities.

On March 26, the Darfur Bar Association summed up the dangers of this policy in a statement calling on authorities to cease the distribution of arms and its politicization of the tribal system:

By arming certain tribesmen, distributing military uniforms and four-wheel drive vehicles among them, and letting them assault, rob, and terrorize innocent civilians with impunity, the regime affirms that it has withdrawn its responsibility, and pushes the people to take up arms themselves in response (Radio Dabanga, March 26, 2015).

A recent conflict in East Darfur between the Ma’alia and the Rizeigat (both “Arab” groups – it is often difficult to visually distinguish between Darfur “Arabs” and “Black Africans”) that killed over 500 people and displaced another 55,0000 brought criticism of the inability of the tribes’ traditional leadership to end the conflict from President Bashir (Sudan Tribune, March 19, 2014), who conveniently overlooked his own government’s role in undermining the influence of the region’s traditional leaders. There are also serious clashes at the northern Darfur goldmines of Jabal Amir between the Rizeigat and the Arab Bani Hussein. Nearly 800 people were killed at the mines in early 2013 alone.

Escalating attacks by the “Arab” Ziyadiya against the indigenous Black African Berti in March began to look more like an attempt to eliminate the Berti rather than merely punish them for an alleged breach of a truce between the two groups earlier this year. Local and largely Ziyadiya units of the paramilitary Border Guards and the Central Reserve Force (popularly known as “Abu Tira”) have joined Ziyadiya tribesmen in large-scale attacks on Berti in the Melllit region, north of the Darfur capital of al-Fashir. A string of assaults by gunmen and paramilitary forces equipped with Russian-made 108mm DShK “Dushka machine guns and mortars culminated with the massacre of over 40 civilians in villages near Mellit on March 28 (Radio Dabanga, March 22, 2015; March 29, 2015). The raids, which killed over 80 Berti in March alone, have been accompanied by widespread looting, rustling and destruction of property.

unamid 2Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir

North Darfur governor Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir, a Berti member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), has been accused by his rivals of using his office to strengthen the position of his own tribe and forming a Berti militia (Sudan Tribune, September 17, 2013).

Former Janjawid leader and arch-rival to Kibir, Shaykh Musa Hilal (an Umjallul/ Mahamid Arab and a member of parliament for the ruling National Congress Party [NCP – al-Mu’tamar al-Watani]), incited an Arab militia in-training with a 2013 speech describing the Berti as led by “a bastard slave” (i.e. Governor Kibir) and knowing “only how to cook watermelons” (Sudan Tribune, September 15, 2013). Hilal now poses as an opponent of the “corrupt regime” in Khartoum as the leader of al-Sahwa [Awakening] Revolutionary Council, which declared in late February that it would boycott this month’s elections (Radio Dabanga, January 13, 2015; February 25, 2015). It appears, however, that Musa Hilal’s main differences are with Governor Kibir rather than al-Bashir, who has traditionally acted as Hilal’s sponsor and guardian.

Nonetheless, a March 17 statement from al-Sahwa condemned Khartoum’s tribal policy in Darfur: “The regime still indulges in reckless policies towards this crisis in the country as it still incites and scatters the seeds of discord among the Arab and non-Arab tribes in Darfur” (Sudan Vision, March 19, 2015). Al-Sahwa controls territory and communities in the western part of Northern Darfur, where it has set up its own administrations.

The regime has tried to downplay the eruption of tribal violence in Darfur as a “normal” condition. In mid-March, Hassan Hamid Hassan, the Sudanese deputy ambassador to the UN, told the UN Security Council that “tribal violence in Darfur is as old as Darfur itself. We cannot condition the withdrawal, the exit of the [UNAMID] mission, on these phenomena which are as ancient as Darfur itself” (Reuters, March 17, 2015).

Conclusion

Some 770 UNAMID staff were scheduled to be cut from the mission’s strength by the end of March 2015, as part of a restructuring prior to eventual withdrawal (Radio Dabanga, March 1, 2015). General elections in Sudan on April 13 are fully expected to return the ruling NCP to power, providing it a self-confirmed mandate to restore order and expand economic development, even if it comes at the expense of the 2.5 million Darfuris who remain displaced. While UNAMID does not have much in the way of accomplishments to justify the loss of over 200 peacekeepers since it began operations, it has nevertheless provided the international community with eyes and ears in turbulent Darfur. The racialization of communities once known for cooperative and generally harmonious relations by the Arab-supremacists within the NCP government cannot be quickly undone, and with the proliferation of all types of small-arms in the region, growing ethnic and tribal conflicts now threaten to supplant the multi-headed rebellion as Darfur’s greatest security threat. UNAMID may be characterized as a costly failure, but its absence will still be deeply felt by Darfur’s civilian population, much of which can expect further displacement through government “pacification” campaigns led by ill-disciplined paramilitaries.

Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial “Rapid Support Forces”

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2014

Since independence in 1956, Sudan’s central government has formed a habit of using tribal-based (usually Arab) militias and paramilitaries to squash regional rebellions.  Usually well-armed but poorly disciplined, these groups have operated under the light hand of various security agencies willing to ignore atrocities and war crimes to re-establish central government control. Now, however, this long-standing policy has begun to backfire on the Islamist-military regime in Khartoum, with the recently formed “counter-terrorist” Rapid Support Forces (RSF) begins to operate outside the control of government authorities, creating even greater resentment against the government in Sudan’s numerous regions of unrest.

Major General Abbas Abd al-Aziz Reviews RSF Fighters

The RSF commander is Major General Abbas ‘Abd al-Aziz, a Ja’alin Arab from North Sudan and a trusted relative of President Omar al-Bashir as well as a senior member of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat), Sudan’s much-feared internal security organization, under whose command the RSF operates. His deputy and field commander is Muhammad Hamdan Daglo (a.k.a. Hemeti), a member of the Mahariya branch of the Northern Rizayqat of Darfur. The paramilitary of 5,000 to 6,000 men is believed to have the patronage of Sudanese Second Vice President Hassabo Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman, a native of Darfur and the political secretary of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The commander of the South Kordofan-based RSF-2, Colonel Hussein Jabr al-Dar, was killed in a mid-May battle with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army Northern Command (SPLM/A-NC) near the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli (Sudan Tribune, May 24; Radio Dabanga, May 26).

A common demand of much of Sudan’s armed and political opposition is the dissolution of the RSF. The creation of a large, well-armed militia under its own command and officially tasked with “counter-terrorism” activities is an important step in entrenching itself within the larger national administration (Middle East Online, May 21).

According to General ‘Abd al-Aziz, the RSF includes in its ranks retired and experienced military men as well as recruits from various parts of the country who receive four months of training before deployment on the battlefield, including lessons on international human rights and the rights of civilians in war zones (Sudan Vision, May 29; AFP, May 21). However, there is widespread concern that former members of Darfur’s notorious Janjaweed militias implicated in serious war crimes are being brought into more formal formations such as the Border Guards and RSF to shield them from prosecution.

The leading rebel movements still active in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army of ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (SLM/A-AW) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army of Minni Minnawi (SLM/A-MM) urged the UN Security Council in April to launch an “immediate investigation of the recent escalation of genocide in Darfur by the Rapid Support Forces from February 28 this year to date” (Radio Dabanga, April 23).

NUP Leader Sadiq al-Mahdi

Two-time Sudanese president and current leader of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) Sadiq al-Mahdi was detained and interrogated by national security prosecutors in mid-May after making public remarks critical of the RSF for its violence against civilians (the NUP has a significant power-base in Darfur) and its alleged inclusion of foreign (mostly Arab) fighters from the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya and Mali in its ranks. National Assembly speaker al-Fatih Izz al-Din even accused al-Mahdi of “treason,” saying the RSF deserved praise for its anti-insurgency operations (Radio Dabanga, May 15).  NISS charges against the former PM included “inciting the international community against Sudan” and “causing unrest among the regular troops.” Al-Mahdi responded with an allusion to President al-Bashir, noting that: “Speaking the truth is the best form of jihad when the sultan is unfair” (Radio Dabanga, May 14). It is worth noting that when al-Mahdi was in his second term as prime minister (1986-1989), he relied heavily on Baqqara (cattle-raising) Arab militias known as murahalin who committed numerous atrocities against South Sudanese Dinka tribesmen during the second civil war.

Malik Agar, chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF – an umbrella group of armed opposition movements), denounced attempts to “muzzle” al-Mahdi, claiming that the RSF had “expanded their activities to the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and even North Kordofan’s al-Ubayd and its surroundings. They burn hundreds of villages and kill and displace thousands of Sudanese citizens, rape and kidnap hundreds of women and loot civilians’ property, for their systematic impoverishment” (Radio Dabanga, May 16).

Backed by field commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo, General Abd al-Aziz held an angry press conference to respond to al-Mahdi’s charges and earlier allegations from United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) chief Muhammad ibn Chambas:

We didn’t loot. We didn’t burn any villages. We didn’t rape… It’s the rebels who are destroying water resources, burning villages and committing race-based killings. Then they try to put the blame on us (AFP, May 14).

The NISS director of operations, Major General ‘Ali al-Nasih, insists that the RSF is a highly disciplined force and part of the NISS command structure: “More than 6,000 security personnel are distributed at petroleum sites, co-deployed with the armed forces at borders and co-working with police to protect the national capital and other major towns” (Sudan Vision, May 25). The general also maintains that the paramilitary engages in such activities as public health, environmental protection and food distribution.

General ‘Abd al-Aziz has admitted that the RSF has committed some human rights violations, but described these incidents as “limited and individual” (Radio Dabanga, May 16). Such dissimulation has not impressed SPLM-N secretary-general Yasir Arman, who urged all Sudanese to “campaign against the RSF war criminals” at home and abroad: “The RSF troops are mercenaries, who do anything for material gains. This [absorption of the Janjaweed into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF)] may tear Sudan apart by destroying the social fabric” (Radio Dabanga, May 14).

On May 19-20, heavy fighting broke out between police in the North Darfur capital of al-Fashir and Haras al-Hudud  (Border Guard) units allegedly supported by allied RSF members (both units draw heavily on former Janjaweed members) (Independent, May 20).  The paramilitaries, who are accused by local residents of looting, armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking, had clashed earlier with police in January 2013, killing two policemen, and again last April when Border Guards attempted to break into the Agricultural Bank in al-Fashir (Radio Dabanga, January 31, 2013; March 18, 2014). The former Janjaweed, who were once richly rewarded for targeting civilian populations in Darfur, have fallen victim to budget cuts forced by the separation of oil-rich South Sudan in 2011 and are eager to make up the difference at the expense of the residents of Darfur and Kordofan.  Using government-supplied arms to extort cash is nothing new to RSF field commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo, who led a 2007 rebellion by Mahariya Border Guard irregulars demanding payment of back-wages. [1]

In late 2013, thousands of RSF recruits (mostly from Darfur) were shipped to the battlefields of South Kordofan, where they suffered heavy losses in fighting against SPLM/A-NC rebels. Subsequently, they were stationed in the North Kordofan capital of al-Ubayd. After various rampages and assaults on the local population (generally viewed as pro-government) were followed by massive protests against their presence, the RSF was ordered back to Darfur in February, where they immediately began attacking local villages and displacing tens of thousands of people (Sudan Tribune [Khartoum], February 26).  Unable to control the militia, the Sudanese government was reported to have paid the RSF $3 million to evacuate its forces from al-Ubayd (al-Taghyeer [Khartoum], February 13). In west Kordofan, repeated incidents of looting, assaults and sexual attacks by RSF personnel in 2013 led local people to rise up against the paramilitary, eventually receiving armed support against the RSF from the local SAF garrison in Kharasan (Radio Dabanga, February 26).

Under these conditions, the RSF was naturally as unwanted in Darfur as it was in Kordofan; a statement by a coalition of 12 Darfur civil society organizations condemned the praise heaped on the paramilitary by its commanders and patrons:

The RSF militias, under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services, seemingly have been commended for the burning of hundreds of villages in South and North Darfur since February this year; for killing, wounding, raping, and looting the property of innocent civilians, and causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Darfuri people (Radio Dabangs, April 24).

On May 21, a pro-opposition news website claimed that “an informed source” had described a major clandestine airlift of RSF fighters to Libya in post-midnight flights from Khartoum Airport. Accompanied by Qatari-bought Sudanese-manufactured weapons, these RSF units were being sent to support hard-pressed Islamist forces in Libya in return for emergency financial support and oil shipments from Qatar and Libya respectively (Hurriyat Sudan, May 21). If this unconfirmed report is true, such a deployment may be more an effort to remove this unruly paramilitary from Sudan than a sincere effort to support Libya’s Islamists.

Note

1. “Border Intelligence Brigade (al-Istikhbarat al-Hudud, a.k.a. Border Guards), Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Small Arms Survey, Geneva, November 2010, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/saf-and-allied-forces/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Border-Guards.pdf

This article was published in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Nigerian Army Abandons Peacekeeping Missions in Mali and Darfur to Combat Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

July 25, 2013

Nigeria has begun to pull back troops from peacekeeping missions in Mali and Darfur as its two-month-old offensive against Boko Haram militants begins to falter even as northern Nigerian extremists turn to soft targets to disrupt the efforts of security forces. Launched on May 14, the offensive has proved controversial from the start, with critics describing it as ineffective and shockingly casual in its regard for civilian lives.