Deputy chairman of Sudan’s junta escalates rhetoric against victims of violence in Darfur

Over the past two weeks, over 16,000 people were displaced in a fresh round of violent attacks in Darfur in which the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces allegedly played a key role. Now its head and the second-in-command of Sudan’s junta, General Hemeti, has threatened to dismantle refugee camps

January 07, 2023 by Pavan Kulkarni
Victims of violence in camps Darfur. Photo: Darfur Network for Monitoring and Documentation

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The deputy chairman of the military junta ruling Sudan, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemeti, has threatened to dissolve the camps of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) in the Darfur region.

In a speech on January 3, he alleged that weapons have been stored inside, and upped the threats against the very people who have been coming under attacks in the State of South Darfur for the last two weeks by the notorious state-backed militia under his command, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Starting from December 21, the current spate of attacks peaked on December 23. Attacks have continued at a lower intensity since, including on January 5, when, according to the General Coordination of Displaced and Refugees, three more IDPs were shot and wounded by RSF members.

At least 21 people have been killed in these attacks over the last two weeks, Adam Rojal, spokesperson of the General Coordination of Displaced and Refugees, told Peoples Dispatch. Over 50 are wounded and around 16,500 people have been displaced – or re- displaced – in the violence that swept across more than two dozen villages in the Beleil locality to the east of the South Darfur’s capital Nyala.

“11 villages are completely burned and looted,” he said. Four more villages are partially destroyed. Another nine villages were looted when the people had fled. These villages were inhabited by farming tribes who had been displaced in the peak of the civil war in Darfur in 2003 and 2004, and forced to take refuge in different camps for the Internally Displaced People (IDP) in South Darfur.

However, after international organizations stopped providing aid to them, their food-rations were reduced by over 80% by 2017, forcing most of them “to return to agriculture in the areas in which they used to live and whose lands are arable,” Rojal said.

Now, forced back into camps and other shelters in Beleil and nearby localities, they are currently living in a precarious condition, without access to sanitation, clean drinking water and medicines, he explained, calling for urgent international humanitarian aid. There is no food provided by any government agencies, leaving them entirely dependent on the charity of other people.

Their return to their land, Rojal maintains, is not acceptable to the Sudanese state, which is trying to bring about a demographic change in Darfur by ethnic cleansing of the “African” tribes and settling other Arabic-speaking tribes on the lands from which they are displaced.

While the two groups are not racially distinct, the Arabic-speaking tribes are largely nomadic herders, while those referred to as indigenous “African” tribes are sedentary farmers and pastoralists speaking local languages. Exploiting the conflict between this community of farmers and herders over land and water, the Sudanese state recruited the nomads and formed the Janjaweed militias during the civil war in Darfur. At least 300,000 people were killed in this civil war, and over 2.5 million displaced.

In 2013, the Janjaweed were organized into the RSF. They are accused of genocide, war-crimes and crimes against humanity, for which former dictator Omar al Bashir – ousted in April 2019 after months of massive pro-democracy demonstrations starting from December 2018 – stands trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, his coterie of generals – including the head of the RSF, Hemeti, and the army chief and coup-leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – remain in power.

Violence intensified since the Juba peace agreement

Leaders of most of the armed rebel groups which recruited from farming tribes made peace with the army and the RSF in exchange for a share in state power by signing the Juba peace agreement in October 2020, and even went on to support the coup a year later.

“More than two years have passed since the Juba Peace Agreement, and since then, the leaders of former armed groups occupy government positions, including the governor of Darfur, Minni Minnawi,” Rojal pointed out. Minnawi is the leader of the largest faction of a rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA).

However, violence against the farming communities – who the erstwhile rebel groups claimed to represent – has only intensified with the backing of the RSF and other militias, displacing several hundreds of thousands since the agreement.

The violence last month began when a group from the farming community, which was returning from the weekly market to their village, Amuri, was fired upon by camel-riding militia, leading to one death and injuries to three others.

The following day, “the people of the region went out to track down the perpetrators, and they reached one of the areas that housed members of Al-Furqan militia,” which is backed by the RSF, Rojal explained. Injuries and deaths were caused on both sides in the clash that ensued..

Then, on December 23, “there was a comprehensive attack” from all directions by the RSF, which went on a rampage in over two dozen villages. Livestock and properties were looted, and crops they could not loot were completely burned. The attackers, he said, are “receiving technical, strategic and logistical support from the state because they are the state’s militia.”

That day, the RSF started an eight-day conference in Nyala, whose purpose, according to the state media, SUNA, was “to upgrade performance to support the projects of peace, development [and] security.”

A “severe siege” on the Fasha area of Beleil followed for two days, and the villagers in this region, “including women and children, were incapacitated without food and water,” added Rojal.

Hemeti issues further threats to displaced victims and their elected leader

Hemeti, who arrived in Nyala on December 29 toward the end of the conference, gave contradictory assurances. On the one hand, he reportedly said that all the uniformed RSF members seen in the several videos of the attack had been arrested. On the other hand, he claimed that the RSF uniforms were easily available across the country, and had been misused to wrongly vilify this militia, thus distancing its actual members from the attacks.

Claiming further that the forces in RSF uniform had crossed from Central African Republic (CAR), he announced the closure of the border earlier this month on January 2, 2023, during the signing of a “cessation of hostilities agreement” between the leaders of the two tribes.

The head of Darfur Bar Association, Saleh Mahmoud, told Radio Dabanga that “tribal reconciliations in Darfur are superficial and fragile, and do not necessarily reflect the real demands of the victims.” Mahmoud said that community leaders were pressured into signing this agreement. Critics have often pointed out that what is underway in Darfur is not a tribal conflict but is being portrayed as such by the government which is undertaking a depopulation campaign against farming communities on mineral-rich lands.

Read more: Massacres in West Darfur: Depopulation campaign on mineral-rich lands by Sudan’s military junta?

While acknowledging that according to the Juba Peace Agreement, the Beleil locality belonged to the farming community which had come under attack, he added that “non-acceptance of the other,” i.e the nomadic herders the regime is trying to replace them with, “will lead to the country falling apart.”

The cessation of hostilities agreement that the leaders of the farming tribe were forced to sign “aims to hide the real culprits and legalizes new herders’ settlements,” said Abdelbadi Abakar, a member of the Emergency Room for Relief for the Beleil Victims.

While Hemeti has called on the displaced victims in Beleil to return to their homes – which are mostly looted or burnt down – continuing attacks by the members of his militias have made it extremely dangerous.

Then, on January 3, he called for the dissolution of the IDP camps, accusing them of holding weapons. “We consider these statements as an explicit declaration of war against the unarmed displaced persons, killing them and targeting their leaders, with the aim of liquidating the camps,” read a statement by the General Coordination of Displaced Persons and Refugee Camps on January 4.

These camps, the statement added, host witnesses to “the crimes of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity” for which former dictator al-Bashir is on trial. These crimes, which began in 2003, “are still continuing with the current rulers”, whose goal is “to bring about demographic change in Darfur” and eliminate all the witnesses, said Rojal.

Hemeti also made personal attacks on the General Coordinator of the camps for the displaced and refugees, Sheikh Jacob Muhammad Abdullah, accusing him of killing two of his cousins. Jacob Muhammad was “was elected by the displaced and refugees as the general coordinator of the camps for the displaced and the refugees. He did not come to this position with a military coup,” pointed out the statement by the General Coordination. “He is one of victims and survivors of the genocide by the Janjaweed militias.”

“We also call on the international community to implement.. the Resolution No. 1556 passed by the UN Security Council in 2004,” calling for the immediate disarmament of all Janjaweed militias, added the statement.

However, the ‘international community’ has been preoccupied with cajoling the right-wing parties and the military junta to reach a power-sharing agreement, through which the military rule can be given a civilian face. As an initial step toward this end, a framework agreement was signed between these right-wing parties of the coalition called the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Such an agreement between the junta and the FFC – which had already shared power with the military from August 2019 until it was thrown out by the government in the coup in October 2021 – cannot address the crisis in Darfur, Rojal pointed out.

“Without justice,” which cannot be ensured under any arrangement where the military holds state-power, “there will be no coexistence or peace,” Rojal said, stressing on the need to dismantle the RSF and “to hand over all the criminals for trial” at the ICC.