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.

 

New_Picture_2_.1c0eb862. Rapid Support Forces: A Celebrated Government Militia  

The Rapid Support Forces are made up of Janjaweed militias integrated into the government’s military and security structure. The militia is led by Mohamed Hamdan Doglu, nicknamed “Himaidti,” who received the rank of Brigadier General when his fighters were integrated following training in camps in Central Sudan. The SAF used these militiamen as shock troops in South Kordofan last September as part of the government’s summer campaign against the SPLM-North and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) forces. The Rapid Support Forces reportedly lost many of their fighters. They were redeployed back to Darfur.
These forces were received in El-Dain, East Darfur, on 20 February with a state-arranged ceremony. They then moved to South Darfur, joining the SAF campaign against SLM,. Meanwhile, the SLM-MM and JEM have begun joint operations in the region. These new developments needs greater attention from national and international actors, particularly UNAMID, to develop a strong strategy to avert further escalation of violence resulting from the rebel campaign on government garrison towns.
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3. Rapid Support Forces in South Darfur

The RSF, with some 6,000 men fighting alongside the government, unleashed deadly attacks on the  area southeast of Nyala, capital of South Darfur, targeting more than 30 villages. The area has two main administrative units, Sanya Dellaiba and Hejair Tonyo, the birth place of Daud Yahya Bolad, an earlier Darfur rebel movement leader, who was captured, executed in 1991 by the government. The area is mainly inhibited by Fur and Zaghawa tribes. The attacks took place on 27 and 28 February, with the indiscriminate killing of dozens of unarmed civilians, and widespread looting. Between 30,000 to 40,000 villagers fled to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps near Nyala.
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.
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4.Insecurity in Al Fashir

In Al Fashir, 3 March, an angry crowd protested the increasing incidents of looting and killings by armed individuals in pick-up trucks without license plates, reportedly belonging to the RSF. The Governor of North Darfur, Osman Yusif Kibir addressed the crowd, saying “We cannot control the security situation in Al Fashir . . . every citizen should protect himself, because the authorities are incapable of controlling the belligerent regular forces.” Ironically the same week, Kibir suggested the Sudan Football Association relocate a friendly football game between Kenya and Sudan to Al Fashir, to show how secure his capital is.
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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.

default6. Musa Hilal’s insurgency

In recent months Musa Hilal, the leader of Umjallul/Mahameed ethnic group in North Darfur, has emerged as serious threat to the government. In late February, Hilal’s militia attacked a Central Reserve Force (CRF) convoy near Kutum, killing  34 members. In early 2013, Hilal was implicated in the tribal clashes between Reizegat and Beni Hussein over control of the gold mines in Jebel Amir, some 200 kilometres north-west of Al Fashir. Hundreds of people were killed and tens of thousands displaced. This week, Musa Hilal’s militia attacked Saraf Omra locality in North Darfur, displacing and the killing a large number of civilians.
Since December 2012, Musa Hilal has had a hostile relationship with the Governor of North Darfur, Osman Yusif Kibir and his Berti ethnic group. He has accused the governor of failing to fulfill his 2010 election promises. More importantly, Hilal has ambitions to rule North Darfur. In 2013, he officially defected from the National Congress Party (NCP) and announced the establishment of a new political movement called the Sudanese Awakening Revolutionary Council.
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.
Yet, Hilal has many identities: tribal leader, politician, militia leader, former armed robber, peace-maker and now rebel leader. His actions, rather than his words, reveal the person he tries to conceal, a modern day warlord in a weak state, and strong shareholder in the privatised violence enterprise in Darfur. He was contracted by the government in 2003 in the counterinsurgency plan that led to the death of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions, and the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants for President al-Bashir and other GoS officials. In 2006, the UN Security Council imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Hilal because of allegations of involvement in human rights abuses. In 2014, Musa Hilal reincarnated himself as fighter for the dispossessed and oppressed in Darfur, calling for the voluntary return of IDPs to their homes. It remains to be seen whether Hilal’s new image is genuine.

default27. International responses

The government’s counterinsurgency campaign against the SRF and other insurgent groups operating in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and the five Darfur states has given complete license to its troops and the Air Force to target civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law. Local and international monitoring groups have documented bombings of farms and villages in seven states of Sudan. It remains to be seen if international condemnations of abuses will translate into effective pressure on Khartoum to change its conduct and stop the killing of its own citizens.
On 8 March, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We are deeply concerned by the recent escalation of violence by the Sudanese government-supported Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Darfur.  The U.S. strongly condemns the attacks on civilians and calls upon the Government of Sudan to prevent further violence and to cease its own campaign of aerial bombardments.”  This week, the U.S. issued a second statement, criticizing the Sudanese government over the surge of violence in Darfur. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said civilians are being “terrorized, displaced, and killed” despite the presence of one of the world’s biggest peacekeeping missions. In reaction, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry insisted the U.S. Administration bear part of the responsibility for these aggressions, as well as the stalling of the peace process in Darfur. The United Kingdom’s Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, on 6 March, expressed deep concern about the violence in Darfur, and urged the authorities to “allow . . . UNAMID immediate access to the affected areas.”
Two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have also hinted at their disappointment with UNAMID for being too passive  in the face of attacks on civilians since February. From its well-protected positions, named “Super Camps,” UNAMID expressed “deep concern” over “reports” of the late February attacks south east of Nyala, and reported that the government had rebuffed peacekeepers’ attempts to access the affected areas. The statement shows that UNAMID is resigned to requesting the government’s permission before enforcing its mandate to protect civilians. In an environment where government forces and allied militias are among the main perpetrators of violations, UNIAMID’s conduct warrants critical examination by the U.N. Security Council and independent observers.
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8. Concluding remarks

Like other conflicts in Sudan, the current crisis in Darfur cannot be isolated from the overall tragic context in Sudan. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, SAF’s aerial bombardment of civilians is a persistent reality. In the rest of the country, brutal repression continues. Darfur has proved to be a tragic example of the failure of piecemeal deals. The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of 2006 lasted only four years, without achieving peace in the region, collapsing in December 2010 after the SLM-MM withdrew from the agreement. Subsequently, Minni Minnawi, at the time the only rebel signatory of the DPA, resigned as Senior Assistant to the President and as Chairperson of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority. The 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), boycotted by most rebel movements, was only signed by the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM). Today, the DDPD is on the verge of collapse. On 6 March, the head of Darfur Regional Authority, Al-Tijani Al-Sissi Ateem, warned of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in South Darfur and criticized the government for failing to restore security. He added that LJM, another junior signatory faction called the JEM-Bashar, and the DRA itself have been constrained by a lack of capacity, resources and political influence.
The reality in Sudan has long bypassed the division of peace processes between Darfur and the conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Darfur’s JEM and both SLM factions are integrated into the Sudan Revolutionary Forces, fighting alongside the SPLM-North. On the other hand, the government is using Darfur’s militia groups of Arab descent in its war against the SRF.
The AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council are deluding themselves if they believe the current bifurcated structures of mediation to end Sudan’s wars will succeed. Continuing on these separate tracks and looking the other way while Khartoum kills and displaces its own citizens is a betrayal of their mandates to protect regional and international peace and security, and shield civilians from imminent harm.

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