Violence, displacement and civilian deaths in Darfur have significantly increased since the start of March. Darfur is increasingly disintegrating into a state of anarchy. Inter-tribal fighting in Central and West Darfur states continues to escalate. A Janjaweed militia, renamed the Rapid Support Force (RSF) by the government, has attacked civilians in South Darfur. The rebel Sudan Liberation Movement of Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) attacked several towns in North Darfur. Both Minnawi and Musa Hilal, the infamous Janjaweed leader, report they control over 65% of North Darfur.
Last week, a news release from the UN Mission in Darfur expressed concern over increased violence and mass displacement. On 9 March, the Sudanese government, in a desperate attempt to manage the unfolding crisis in North Darfur, sent the vice-president Hasabo Mohamed Abd-al-Rahman, the Minister of Defence, the Director of the National Security and the Deputy Director of the Police Forces, to Al-Fashir, to discuss the deteriorating situation. The commander of the Sixth Infantry Division, General Hamid Tyrab Al Tahir, based in Al Fashir, was reportedly relieved from his position. Despite the government’s efforts, it is clear they cannot control their former militia allies or defeat the rebels.
In Khartoum, on 11 March 2014, the Darfur Students Association at the University of Khartoum organized a public meeting on the crisis in Darfur. Following the event, around 500 students, mainly from Darfur, staged a demonstration on campus against the escalating violence, which they blamed on the government. Security forces used tear gas, batons and live ammunition to disperse the protestors, dozens of whom were arrested. A third-year student, Ali Abaker Mussa Idris from South Darfur, was shot dead. The police said it would investigate the incident, while blaming unknown armed men for killing the student. The University announced an indefinite closure. Since 2004, government security forces have killed 17 students from Darfur in universities across Sudan.
1. The legacy of the counterinsurgency
The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) has long depended on militias in its counterinsurgency campaign in ethnically fractured environments, in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Ten years after this policy caused one of the worst human rights and humanitarian disasters in modern times, the Government of Sudan has learned nothing, and persists in pursuing identical policies. This policy comes at high costs to civilians who, in addition are subject to the relentless aerial bombings by Sudan’s Air Force.
As a direct result of this policy, Darfur is awash with weapons. This includes militia forces formally integrated under the command structure of the SAF or the parallel operational command of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). The most well-known of these proxy forces are the Border Guards, Central Reserve Police, and multiple incarnations of the generic Popular Defence Forces (PDF). The Rapid Support Forces, established in 2013, continue to perpetrate atrocities for which they enjoy total impunity. In addition, there are more informal tribal militias affiliated to the government.
The rebels, and also heavily armed and which have rejected the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), advocating for a comprehensive approach that resolves the root causes of conflicts throughout Sudan: are composed of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and the two factions of the Sudan Liberation Army – SLM-Minni Minnawi and SLM-Abdel Wahid Nur.
3. Rapid Support Forces in South Darfur
The attacks were prompted by the reported return of SLM-MM forces to the vicinity after redeploying from South Kordofan. However, instead of engaging the SLM-MM rebels, the integrated militia opted for the collective punishment of populations it deems sympathetic to the rebels, based on their ethnic background.
That such crimes and ethnic targeting are condoned and encouraged by the government was made clear when the highest civilian and military authorities of South Darfur gave a heroes’ welcome to the Rapid Support Forces in Nyala on 3 March. In another official ceremony, the state Governor Adam Mahmoud Gar el-Naby explained that the Rapid Support Forces were selected and trained by the military to carry out specific tasks under the military. These forces had reached Darfur, the Governor explained, to cleanse it of the insurgency, as confirmed by Major General Abbas Abdul Hamid.
4.Insecurity in Al Fashir
5. SLM-Minni Minnawi in North Darfur
The SLM-MM and the government confirmed clashes on 2 and 4 March in Alleit Jar-Elnaby, Haskanita and Al-Tawisha, the birth place of the governor of North Darfur. SLM-MM claim they are in control of the area. On 7 March, SLM-MM announced it had gained control of another two towns in East Darfur. The offensive prompted Khartoum to send a high-level delegation, including the vice-president. The events once again prove that Darfur’s complex conflicts need to be addressed as part of the overall solution to Sudan’s governance crisis.
On 10 March, the Awakening Revolutionary Council strongly condemned the violence in Darfur, saying it “undermined the social fabric”. The statement blamed the government for rejecting the Council’s reconciliation efforts. Although the objectives of the Council are vague and ill-defined, Hilal appears to favour reconciliation with his old enemies, the Darfur rebel groups, and he called for reform, peace and reconciliation across Sudan.