The Third Front: Sudan’s Armed Rebel Movements Join the War Between the Generals

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor 21(16)

August 8, 2023

When a violent struggle between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemeti” and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) led by General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan broke out in mid-April, Sudan had not yet reconciled with several armed rebel movements at war with the central government for decades. With ceasefire agreements in place with most rebel movements, progress towards peace was inching along before and even after the 2019 military coup. However, the new round of national violence threatens to reignite simmering conflicts and pull existing rebel movements into a potentially devastating “third front.”

Dr. John Garang de Mabior

The most notable of these movements is the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM–N, Harakat al-Sha’abi li-Tahrir al-Sudan al-Shamal), which in many ways represented the last vestige of Colonel John Garang’s revolutionary “New Sudan” vision for a Sudanese nation united by democracy, ethnic cooperation, and political secularism. As the intellectual and military leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) from 1985 to 2005, the US-educated Garang was able to impose his unifying vision on a movement whose Christian and animist south Sudanese members preferred separation from the rule of north Sudan’s Arab-centric Islamists rather than a union. Garang’s sudden death in a 2005 helicopter crash revealed the shallow acceptance of the “New Sudan” in southern Sudan, where even his closest comrades began to advance a separatist project that would lead to the independence of South Sudan in 2011 (Al Jazeera, August 1, 2005). Independence stranded non-Arab SPLA units in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, which now lay on the northern side of the Sudanese divide.

Map of Regions of Rebellion in Sudan (Lancet)

These armed units reorganized as the SPLM–N to continue the uneven fight against Sudan’s military-Islamist government and preserve the “New Sudan” ideology, sometimes in coordination with the rebel movements of Darfur. Falling victim to the factionalism that pervades Sudanese politics, the Southern Kordofan wing of the SPLM–N (under ‘Abd al-Aziz Wad Hilu) made a bitter split with the Blue Nile wing (under Malik Agar Ayer) in 2017. At the time, Agar condemned Wad Hilu for “abandoning” the New Sudan project (Sudan Tribune, August 27, 2022). Since Agar joined the SAF-dominated Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC) that ruled Sudan in 2021, it is his former deputy Yasir Arman (an Arab of the influential Ja’alin tribe) who has become the leading adherent of the New Sudan vision, which he feels the rest of the country is finally ready for, following the 2019 popular uprising.

The Juba Agreement—A Step Towards Reconciliation

The Juba Peace Agreement of August 2020 (mediated by South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit, John Garang’s former deputy) offered the Sudanese rebel movements posts in national and regional governments, economic rights, land titles, and integration into the security forces. It did not, however, call for the disarmament of signatory groups until national elections were held. Signatories included two powerful groups from Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM, led by Jibril Ibrahim) and the largely Zaghawa Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi (SLA–MM, led by Sulayman Arcua “Minni” Minnawi, now governor of Darfur). The largely Fur faction of the SLA led by ‘Abd al-Wahid Nur (SLA–AW) declined to sign the agreement. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM–N) were divided over the agreement, with Malik Agar’s Blue Nile faction signing on while ‘Abd al-Aziz Wad Hilu refused, citing the need to first make Sudan a secular rather than an Islamic state.

After Hemeti lost his position on Sudan’s TSC as a consequence of the RSF rebellion, TSC chairman General ‘Abd al-Fatah Burhan replaced him with Malik Agar, who had already joined the Sovereignty Council in February 2021 (SUNA, May 20). Increasingly distant from his SPLA roots, Agar has become one of the most prominent diplomatic representatives of al-Burhan’s rule.

Malik Agar—From Rebel to Vice President

Malik Agar is a member of the Ingassana, a Black African tribe inhabiting the boulder-strewn hills of the Blue Nile region, though years of conflict have forced many Ingassana to live as refugees in South Sudan. Since joining the Sovereignty Council, Agar has established close ties with General al-Burhan, but is also known to have had good relations with General Hemeti before April’s outbreak of hostilities.

Malik Agar (New Humanitarian)

Many SPLM–N members became alarmed when Malik Agar used the newfound authority granted to him by the Juba Agreement to award most government posts in the region, including the governorship, to members of his own Ingassana people, a minority group that played little role in the armed struggle against Khartoum. Increasingly unpopular in his home region, Agar sought new opportunities through his role as a member of the ruling Sovereignty Council and growing alignment with Generals al-Burhan and Hemeti in Khartoum. Agar rejected popular opposition to the October 25, 2019 military coup d’état that overthrew the civilian-military transitional regime established in September 2019. Agar stated at the time that, “What is happening in Sudan is chaos and terrorism against the state, and I do not call it a revolution” (Sudan Tribune, October 26, 2022).

The coup divided the rebels who had signed the Juba Agreement. Some had done quite well from the agreement, and while many government members resigned after the coup, former Darfur rebel leaders Jibril Ibrahim and Minni Minnawi (like Agar, new members of the TSC) both retained their positions (Radio Dabanga, April 11). Civilian prime minister ‘Abd Allah Hamdok appointed Jibril Ibrahim as Sudan’s finance minister on February 8, 2021, despite his associations with the military/Islamist Bashir regime.

Meanwhile, the civilian coalition known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) strongly opposed the military coup. Despite the major role played by the FFC in overthrowing the regime of President Omar al-Bashir, the ties of Malik Agar’s deputy, Yasir Arman, to the FFC annoyed Agar and contributed to their eventual split. In November 2022, an alternative coalition, the Forces for Freedom and Change–Democratic Bloc (FFC–DB), was formed from groups supporting the military coup, including JEM, the Beja High Council of east Sudan, the Democratic Unionist Party (closely associated with the Khatmiyya Sufi order), and Freedom and Change–National Consensus (FC–NC).

Yasir Sa’ad Arman—Keeping the New Sudan Alive

Some of the strongest criticism of the coup-backing rebel movements has come from the third man in the SPLM–N leadership, Yasir Arman, a Ja’alin Arab and thus related to the powerful Nile Valley Arab power base that has ruled Sudan since independence. Despite his origins, Arman opposes the traditional power structure in Sudan, becoming a close follower of John Garang and a loyal adherent to his New Sudan ideology since 1987. After the separation of the south, Arman became a leading figure in the SPLM–N, joining Malik Agar’s faction after the movement’s split in 2017.

Yasir Sa’ad Arman (Asharq al-Awsat)

Arman and Agar had serious differences over how to proceed following the 2021 SAF/RSF military coup; while Agar is now widely viewed as being pro-coup, Arman describes the coup as a failure in every sense and fears it may provide cover for the restoration of al-Bashir’s Islamist regime (a viewpoint shared by the RSF, at least publicly). Ongoing differences led to a fissure between the two men, leading to what was described as an “amicable” split and the creation of Arman’s new movement in August 2022: the SPLM–Revolutionary Democratic Current (RDC) (Sudan Tribune, August 27, 2022). The mitosis of the SPLM–N was complete with the establishment of three related but rival movements with incompatible goals.

Arman has called for a united civilian front to move Sudan forward, with one exception: “The Islamists of the old regime who were behind and actively involved in this war should not be rewarded and involved in the process of the unified civilian front” (Sudan Tribune, June 29). Arman has elsewhere explained that “the roots of this war lie in the policy of creating multiple armies to protect [al-Bashir’s Islamist National Congress Party] system… (Sudan Tribune, June 8). Along similar lines, Malik Agar maintains that the Juba Agreement calls for a single Sudanese army, declaring that: “Having more than one army destabilizes the country” (Ahram Online [Cairo], June 22).

Political Violence Returns to the Nuba Hills

South Kordofan’s SPLM–N commander, ‘Abd al-Aziz Wad al-Hilu, is a Nuba, one of roughly 2 million in Sudan. Indigenous Black Africans, most Nuba live in the Nuba Hills of South Kordofan in remote but easily defensible communities. The Nuba speak roughly 100 languages from hill to hill, using Arabic as a lingua franca. Long subject to attacks from Arab slave-raiders, Egyptians, Mahdists, British imperialists, and Sudanese government troops, the Nuba began to develop a political identity in the later 20th century, which is best expressed today in Wad al-Hilu’s faction of the SPLM–N.

Al-Hilu is based in the town of Kauda in the Nuba Mountains, and believes Yasir Arman failed to press for the self-determination of the Nuba regions of South Kordofan, which was al-Hilu’s core demand. Complicating issues in South Kordofan is the arrival of roughly 200,000 Nuba fleeing the fighting in Khartoum. They also are all in need of humanitarian and medical assistance (Radio Dabanga, June 14).

By June 8, SPLM–N fighters began to deploy around the South Kordofan capital Kadugli, which was already subject to a blockade by RSF forces. Residents of Kadugli began to flee the city on June 21 as the SPLM–N launched attacks on positions of the SAF’s 54th Infantry Brigade around the city, although the army claimed to have repelled the attacks while inflicting heavy losses on their opponents (Facebook–General Command of the Armed Forces, June 21). SAF MiG and Sukhoi warplanes were deployed against the attackers and their bases in the hills. The SAF described the attacks as “treacherous” violations of an annually renewed ceasefire between the rebel movement and the military. The ceasefires had permitted the delivery of aid to SPLM–N-held territories and allowed the free passage of individuals in and out of these regions, but the SPLM–N claimed no pact had been broken as the ceasefires were unilateral.

Dilling, South Kordofan (Matt Stewart)

According to a spokesman for al-Hilu, nearly simultaneous fighting in the mainly Nuba town of Dilling began when SAF troops killed a SPLM–N fighter in a Dilling market. When SPLM–N men asked to bury the body, they were met instead with racial insults by SAF troops (Radio Dabanga, June 28). [1] On the same day as the SPLM–N attack on Dilling, the RSF reportedly seized the SAF’s Tayba military base in al-Dibaybat, which is 50 kilometers from Dilling, and took weapons, ammunition, and prisoners (al-Taghyir [Khartoum], June 21). Residents of al-Dibaybat fled the RSF occupation, fearing “immoral acts” by RSF troops and bombing from SAF warplanes (Radio Dabanga, June 23).

SPLM–N attacks on the regions around Dilling and South Kordofan capital Kadugli resumed on July 15, with the movement taking the SAF’s al-Farshaya camp near Dilling (Sudan Tribune, July 18). Once again, the strikes came at the same time as RSF attacks on the SAF’s Dilling garrison and the interception of an SAF column attempting to evacuate army personnel trapped in al-Farshaya (Radio Dabanga, July 18). SPLM–N forces also seized the Karakaya oil facility south of Dilling after its SAF guards fled. With the separation of South Sudan, South Kordofan now has Sudan’s most productive oil fields.

The SPLM–N Attack on Blue Nile State

With Agar’s influence waning in Blue Nile State, Wad Hilu has begun to pull in some of Agar’s former followers in the region despite local consequences. A two-day assault (June 25-26) by al-Hilu’s forces on the SAF-held city of Kurmuk in Blue Nile State failed to dislodge army forces but displaced nearly 36,000 people (Radio Dabanga, June 28). Al-Hilu’s men resumed attacks on Kurmuk on July 10 and seized two SAF garrisons in eastern South Kordofan (Radio Dabanga, July 11).

Fighting in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions is exacerbated by festering ethnic conflicts, notably Hausa versus Funj (or Birta) in Blue Nile, and Nuba versus Missiriya Arabs in South Kordofan, with the latter allegedly having support from the RSF before the current national conflict (Middle East Monitor, October 20, 2022).

SPLM-N Patrol in South Kordofan (Sudan Tribune)

A representative of the traditional Funj people of the Blue Nile region, Obeid Muhammad Sulayman “Abu Shotal,” shares the local perception that the Hausa (originally Muslim Nigerians who settled along the pilgrimage route through Sudan in the last two centuries) are “foreigners” with no land rights in the region: “The land of Blue Nile is a red line for us … it belongs only to the original people” (AFP, August 27, 2022). [2] When Malik Agar began to grow closer to the Hausa for political purposes, the result was further alienation from his Blue Nile supporters. With hundreds of lives lost in ethnic conflict, the Sudanese army was blamed for failing to provide security in the region (Al Jazeera, October 20, 2022).


The SPLM–N attacks on the SAF are allegedly intended to help protect the civilian population from RSF attacks where the SAF cannot. According to an SPLM-N official:

The SPLM–N is the people’s movement and it has the right and responsibilities to protect lives and properties of the people under its control. This is what is happening in South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas … they are protecting our own legitimate territory (Sudan Tribune, July 20).

The question is whether the SPLM–N is working in league with the RSF, a group with which the rebels have had a tense relationship in the past. So far, there are no reports of the SPLM–N clashing with the RSF, although this could change quickly in the insecure environment. In the meantime, it is worth watching to see whether an apparent coordination of attacks continues. Even if unintentional, SPLM–N military activity could support RSF operations by weakening the SAF. Any expansion of SPLM–N controlled territories will strengthen their hand when, and if, peace talks ever resume in this shattered but resilient nation.

Since April, the official security forces of Sudan have lost all credibility in their mission of defending the Sudanese people. However, the factionalism and opportunism of the rebel movements and their leaders contributes little to their own credibility as an alternative. The unifying principle behind Garang’s New Sudan ideology appears to be a lost cause when even its strongest supporters cannot work together.


[1] Sudanese Arabs frequently refer to Black Africans (such as the Nuba) as abdin (slaves), a legacy of Sudan’s long history of race-based slavery. Social media has provided a home for provocative and insulting attacks on various ethnic groups in Sudan, fueling further internal violence.

[2] The Blue Nile region was part of the once powerful Funj Sultanate, 1504-1821. The sultanate was conquered by the son of Egypt’s Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1821 and was heavily raided for slaves thereafter.

Continued Detention of Rebel POWs suggests Sudan’s military rulers are not ready to settle with the Armed Opposition

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report

May 31, 2019

Sudan Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces Operation in South Kordofan (Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

There was much joy in Sudan in the dying hours of the presidency of Omar al-Bashir when the dreaded National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) announced they were releasing all political detainees in the country (SUNA, April 11, 2019). While there were many scenes of elated families greeting detained protesters and opposition figures after their release, some detainees never emerged from Sudan’s grim prisons. The absence of members of the armed opposition who were taken prisoner while fighting to overthrow the Bashir regime raises two important questions: Did the regime change, or only the head-of-state? And what approach will the new Transitional Military Council (TMC) use to deal with the well-armed opposition movements still in the field in Sudan’s western and southern regions?

Prisoners of War?

Only days after the military removed al-Bashir, the TMC chairman, General ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan, was reminded by an opposition delegation that they were still awaiting the fulfillment of his promise to release members of the armed groups (Sudan Tribune, April 14, 2019). Most of these prisoners belong to the major Sudanese armed opposition groups:

  • The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a Darfur-based group led by Jibril Ibrahim seeking a more inclusive government that is not almost exclusively derived from the powerful Nile-based Arab tribal groups (the Ja’alin, the Danagla and the Sha’iqiya) that have dominated Sudanese politics since independence in 1956. JEM’s leadership and membership is largely but not exclusively drawn from the Zaghawa of northwestern Darfur. Due to the political protests across the country, JEM declined to resume talks planned talks with the Bashir regime in mid-January, declaring they could not “betray the revolution,” though they also feared the talks would be used as propaganda to preserve the regime (Sudan Tribune, January 13, 2019).
  • The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – ‘Abd al-Wahid (SLM/A-AW), a group based in the Jabal Marra mountains of Darfur and led by the Paris-based ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Nur. The SLM/A-AW is largely Fur.
  • The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Minni Minnawi (SLM/A-MM), a Darfur-based group that has operated out of ungoverned southern Libya for several years as a result of military pressure from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and a government paramilitary initially formed from former Janjaweed members, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The leadership and membership is again largely Zaghawa.
  • The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – North (SPLM/A-N), based in the Nuba Hills of Southern Kordofan and Sudan’s Blue Nile State. Before South Sudan signed a peace agreement with Khartoum in 2005 that would eventually lead to independence in 2011, the SPLM/A as led by Colonel John Garang sought a unified “New Sudan” that would bring the non-Arab majority of Sudan into the central government. With Garang’s death in 2005, South Sudanese separatists gained political and ideological ascendancy, abandoning those parts of the movement still operating in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, both on the northern side of the new border. These parts of the SPLM/A reconstituted themselves as the SPLM/A-North. The movement split in 2017 over leadership differences between ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu (South Kordofan faction) and two other leaders, Malik Agar (Blue Nile faction) and Yasir Arman (then SPLM/A-N secretary-general). Al-Hilu also felt the needs of the Nuba people (who form the majority of the South Kordofan fighters) were not being addressed by the larger leadership (Radio Dabanga, October 23, 2017). South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit, who continues to struggle to contain a rebellion in South Sudan’s Equatoria region, made efforts to reunite the two SPLM/A-N factions to better negotiate with the TMC after al-Bashir’s overthrow (East African [Nairobi], May 2, 2019). Agar and Arman were both sentenced to death by hanging in absentia along with 15 other members of the SPLM/A-N in March 2014.

The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF – a coalition bringing together Darfur’s JEM with the two factions of the SPLM/A-N) has declared that the civilian groups discussing the creation of a transitional government are not representative without including the armed opposition, noting the nation’s future security and democratic transition are at risk without their inclusion (Radio Dabanga, April 30, 2019). The armed opposition calls the detainees “prisoners-of-war” (a term never used by the Bashir regime), but admits that, after years of detention in some cases, it is unsure of the condition or whereabouts of many rebel prisoners (Sudan Tribune, April 16, 2019). Four days after Bashir’s overthrow, JEM demanded the immediate release of all “war-related detainees,” warning that their continued detention was “a call for the continuation of the war” that would delay the ability of the Sudanese to “reap the fruits of the revolution” (Radio Dabanga, April 15, 2019).

Last August, the SLM/A-MM complained that one of its leaders, “prisoner of war” ‘Abd al-Salam Muhammad Siddig, had died at Omdurman’s al-Huda prison after torture that resulted in two fractured legs and internal bleeding that proved fatal after medical treatment was withheld. The movement alleged that the prisoners were suffering a “slow death” in close confinement.  Accusing Khartoum of violating the Geneva Convention, the statement reminded authorities that “the right of the prisoners to receive medical treatment and follow-up… is a legal right and not a grant from anyone.” (Radio Dabanga, August 15, 2018).

The JEM Prisoners

The Bashir regime was shaken to its core when scores of JEM vehicles crossed the desert from Darfur to suddenly arrive on the outskirts of the national capital in May 2008. The army largely failed to appear in defense of the regime, and the raiders were engaged in running street battles in Omdurman with police and pro-Bashir paramilitaries. As JEM was finally driven out of the capital after a fierce struggle, some 70 JEM members were captured and sentenced to death. When JEM and several other rebel movements declined to sign the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), the prisoners were unable to avail themselves of Article 60, allowing for the release of prisoners of war (DDPD, p.63, Article 60, subsection 329, May 2011). Though the death sentences were not carried out, the prisoners are alleged to have endured a kind of living death of torture and abuse in cramped and squalid conditions (Radio Dabanga, August 15, 2013; Sudan Tribune, September 8, 2018).

According to JEM, many of the prisoners languished under sentences of death after their 2008 capture in tiny, vermin-ridden cells, with only a daily visit to the toilet and no access to bathing facilities. JEM has charged that the men are prisoners of war entitled to decent conditions by the Geneva Convention (, November 16, 2015).

When JEM detainees in North Khartoum’s Kober Prison went on a hunger strike in 2013 to protest their treatment, the Director General of Prisons arrived to deliver a little regime reality to the desperate prisoners: “We’ve got the power, wealth, aircraft, and vehicles that enable us to do whatever we want… It is our right to act any way we want against any person in all of Sudan… If I kill you all nobody would ask me why” (Radio Dabanga, September 1, 2013).

Kober Prison, North Khartoum (AFP)

Many JEM rebels were released from Kober and other Sudanese prisons after al-Bashir issued an edict on March 8, 2017. As well as those taken prisoner in Omdurman, there were others taken in later battles at Goz Dango, Fanaga, Donki Baashim and Kulbus (Radio Dabanga, March 9, 2017). A sentence of death was lifted from 66 detainees and another 193 granted amnesty. However, in October 2018, Khartoum admitted that seven JEM prisoners and 21 SPLM/A-N prisoners were still being held in Omdurman’s al-Huda prison despite the presidential amnesty of March 2017 (Radio Dabanga, October 11, 2018).

One of those released under the amnesty, JEM field commander ‘Abd al-Aziz Ousher, complained that a number of senior JEM commanders taken at Goz Dango in April 2015 had not been freed by the presidential amnesty (Radio Dabanga, March 9, 2017). Some 180 JEM prisoners taken at Goz Dango were transferred to al-Huda prison in Omdurman in January 2016. Unable to leave their cells, 23 contracted tuberculosis, which went untreated (Radio Dabanga, September 5, 2016).

President Omar al-Bashir Arrives in Goz Dango to Celebrate SAF/RSF Victory

A report released on May 30 by the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) says that 235 prisoners belonging to the SLM/A-MM and the SLM/A – Transitional Council (SLM/A-TC, a splinter group of the SLM/A-AW) remain inside al-Huda prison. These prisoners are alleged to have endured “cruel treatment and torture” as well as starvation rations and an absence of medical treatment for tuberculosis and injuries sustained in battle or through torture in captivity (Radio Dabanga, May 30, 2019). These fighters were taken prisoner in a series of running battles against the RSF and SAF in Darfur when the two rebel movements attempted to cross back into Sudan from their temporary bases in southern Libya.

Post-Coup Developments

Following the coup, the TMC quickly declared a ceasefire in the three conflict areas (Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile State), where many rebel groups were already observing a unilateral ceasefire during the protests for fear the regime would make claims the spontaneous protests were actually planned and executed by the armed opposition. That was exactly the approach the regime took under advice from M-Invest, a Russian company with offices in Khartoum operated by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. Darfuri students in Khartoum were rounded up and tortured into confessions that they were provocateurs working for both Israel and the Wahid al-Nur’s SLM/A-AW (BBC, April 25, 2019; CNN, April 25, 2019). The regime, however, had scapegoated Darfuri students for all manner of anti-government sentiment for years, so the familiar accusations had little resonance in the streets.

Lieutenant General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemeti,” TMC deputy chairman and leader of the notorious RSF paramilitary, made the surprising move of thanking ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Hilu and the SPLM-N for extending their unilateral ceasefire, adding (after years of brutal repression by the RSF) that the armed opposition movements were a part of the larger movement responsible for deposing President al-Bashir. According to Daglo, the TMC has made contact with the armed movements, including Daglo’s bitter enemies in the Fur-dominated SPLM/A-AW (Radio Dabanga, May 1, 2019). The existence of such contacts has not been verified by the armed opposition and Daglo’s sudden respect for the rebel movements seems disingenuous.

Musa Hilal and Darfur’s Arab Rebels

Another group that has not benefitted from the general release is composed of former Janjaweed commander Musa Hilal and his relatives and followers who were arrested in November 2017. The nazir (chief) of the Mahamid Arabs of Darfur (a branch of the Northern Rizayqat), Hilal acted as a senior government advisor in Khartoum before a dispute with the regime led to his return to Darfur in 2014. Once home, he began to reorganize the Mahamid members of the Border Guard Force (BGF) into the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC), an anti-regime vehicle for Hilal’s political ambitions. SRAC cleared out the outnumbered SAF garrisons in northwest Darfur and the Jabal Amer goldfields and began to establish its own administration in these areas.

This direct challenge to Khartoum’s authority demanded a response, which came in the form of a massive RSF assault on Hilal’s headquarters in Mistiriyha. Hilal, his sons, three brothers and some 50 supporters were arrested after violent clashes and sent to Khartoum as detainees. [1]

Hilal and a number of imprisoned supporters began a hunger strike on April 25 to protest their continued detention, which, despite the TMC’s commitment to release prisoners of the Bashir regime, has now lasted one and a half years without trial or contact with their families (Radio Dabanga, April 26, 2019). SRAC issued a statement on May 5 calling on the TMC to release all prisoners of war and political detainees in Darfur and Kordofan (Radio Dabanga, May 5, 2019).

Yasir Arman (in white) with SPLM/A-N Commanders (Radio Dabanga)

Yasir Arman Arrives in Khartoum

A “delegation of good intentions” from the SPLM-N Blue Nile faction arrived in Khartoum for talks with the TMC and protest leaders on May 11. SPLM-N Blue Nile deputy chairman Yasir Arman and movement secretary general Ismail Khamis arrived in Khartoum later on May 26 and did not experience any complications at the airport. Arman declared their goal was to “reach a just peace… [and] democracy and citizenship without discrimination and social justice,” while warning the SPLM/A-N would not accept a new military government (Radio Dabanga, May 28 2019). The SPLM/A-N ceasefire has been extended until July 31, unless the TMC chooses to go on the offensive in the meantime (RFI, April 17, 2019).

While waiting for an opportunity to meet TMC representatives, Arman met with US Chargé d’Affaires Steven Koutsis on May 28. This apparently angered the TMC, which ordered Arman to leave the country if he wished to avoid the implementation of his death sentence (Anadolu Agency, May 29, 2019). Arman said he had received no less than five letters from TMC deputy leader Muhammad Hamdan Daglo and one from TMC chairman ‘Abd al-Fatah Burhan demanding his immediate departure from Sudan. Insisting that he had no intention of leaving, Arman described the death sentence hovering over him as “a political ruling par excellence” (Radio Dabanga, May 30, 2019).


The TMC’s warning to Yasir Arman demonstrates that the military council is even less ready to work with the armed opposition than with civilian protest leaders. The plight of the non-Arab POWs who fought for years to remove Bashir is indicative of the enduring elitism of northern Sudan’s Arab population, especially the Nile-based Danagla, Sha’iqiya and Ja’alin tribes. The little-discussed truth of Sudan’s revolution is that many of the pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum, like the military, have little interest in the welfare of non-Arab rebels who fought and suffered for years to remove Bashir and the ruling clique. Their plight formed part of Yasir Arman’s agenda for talks in Khartoum, but the TMC’s continuing refusal to even meet with the armed opposition leader suggests the military has little intention of abandoning its anti-insurgency campaigns in Sudan, which provide it with wealth and power at the expense of Sudan’s political and economic development.


[1] See: “Musa Hilal: Darfur’s Most Wanted Man Loses Game of Dare with Khartoum… For Now,” AIS Special Report, December 12, 2017,