By Pavan Kulkarni – Jun 20, 2023
The Sudanese Communist Party argues that the ceasefire mainly serves the warring parties who can resupply their forces and resume fighting with greater intensity.
The fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which entered its third month on June 15, resumed in the early hours of Wednesday, June 21, with the end of the 72-hour-long ceasefire. The ceasefire began on June 18.
Speaking to Peoples Dispatch during the lull in the fighting amid the ceasefire, Fathi Elfadl, national spokesperson of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), argued that the ceasefires were mainly helping the warring parties recoup.
The US and Saudi Arabia, which have been hosting the talks between SAF and RSF in Jeddah since May 6, said in a joint statement late on June 17, that the two parties had agreed to “allow the unimpeded movement and delivery of humanitarian assistance.” They had also committed to not carry out offensives, resupply their forces, or reinforce their positions during the truce.
While similar commitments were also made in the previous week-long ceasefire at the end of May, Elfadl maintained that hardly any aid reached the people caught in the war-zones. “The agreement only proved to help both the warring parties to reorganize, resupply, and strengthen forces. What followed was the worst of the fighting,” he said, expressing concern that the fighting will further intensify after the end of the new ceasefire.
The RSF, whose fighters are mostly from a group of nomadic Arabic-speaking tribes spread across the national borders in the region, “is bringing in more fighters from neighboring countries like Central Africa, Niger, etc.,” he alleged.
“The army is mobilizing troops from different parts of Sudan,” he said, adding, “We are not at all hopeful of any positive outcome from Jeddah. The fighting has only intensified and spread since talks began there [on May 6]. Both sides are now stronger than before.”
“Even if this ceasefire lasts for three days, it is back to hell again after that,” he added, insisting that “hell” is the proper word to describe what the civilians are enduring, especially in Darfur, in western Sudan, and in the national capital region.
In capital Khartoum and its sister cities of Khartoum Bahri (North) and Omdurman, the SAF’s planes have been bombing densely populated residential areas with artillery and airstrikes. Meanwhile the RSF kill, loot, and rape civilians on the ground, and occupy their homes and properties.
An increasing number of civilians have been displaced or caught in the crossfire, especially over the last few weeks since the army dispatched additional infantry to engage the RSF in street battles in the residential neighborhoods they occupy.
Along with several homes, Elfadl said that the RSF has also occupied and destroyed the Abdel Karim Merghani Cultural Center. It describes itself as a “library, a research resource, a lecture and performance arts venue, and a publishing house for Sudan’s written culture and history.”
SCP’s headquarters was also occupied by the RSF on May 25. Only on June 18, the SCP members, including Elfadl, were able to enter their office again. “Although the RSF troops have now vacated the headquarters, the whole neighborhood of Khartoum 2 is now under the control of the RSF,” Elfadl said. He added that the SAF, meanwhile, has been forcing civilians to vacate the city so they can fight the RSF.
“I advise civilians that if RSF occupies your house and you are forced out, the neighbors, in turn, should evacuate the houses adjacent to this house because from now on, we will attack them anywhere,” warned General Yasir al-Atta announced on June 16.
Soon after this announcement, the SAF unleashed two days of heavy shelling and airstrikes on residential areas around the capital region, during which an estimated 217 people were killed in Khartoum and its sister cities, Elfadl said. Most of the deaths occurred in the northern part of Khartoum and in northern and central parts of Omdurman, where Elbadl resides.
Thousands killed in two months
In the two months of fighting, more than 3,000 people have been killed and over 6,000 have been injured, Health Minister Haitham Ibrahim said on June 17. This count seems to exclude the killings in the West Darfur state capital of El Geneina because all the hospitals “are out of service” in the city which is under siege and incommunicado. According to a report published on Monday, June 19, by an organization representing the tribe under siege in Darfur, more than 5,000 people had been killed in El Geneina alone, as of June 12.
In a June 12 statement, , Fadil Omar, spokesperson of a local Resistance Committee, said, “The city of Geneina is now isolated, with its residential neighborhoods and displacement camps cut off from the world… I say this with complete certainty: no place on this earth is more miserable than Geneina.”
He added that reports indicate that “the majority of kidney patients in the region and those with chronic illnesses, especially those suffering from heart problems, have either died or are on the brink of death. Pregnant women are also experiencing highly challenging conditions, and there are reports of cases of rape in the area.”
Two days after Omar’s statement, the governor of West Darfur, Khamis Abakar, was killed on June 14. He is the highest government functionary to be killed since the war broke out between the SAF and the RSF. Footage shows him being detained by a group of armed persons, including several in RSF uniform. Another video allegedly showed his bloodied dead body, lying on the ground with slash wounds, including on the side of his neck.
Civil society activists, the SAF, and the UN have all accused the RSF of his murder. Denying the charge, the RSF claimed in a statement that it had taken his custody and driven him to the headquarters in El Geneina “to protect the governor,” but “two outlaws” killed him after kidnapping him from the RSF’s custody.
Abakar was a member of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which was among the armed groups in Darfur at war with the Sudanese state in 2003. In protest of the political and economic marginalization under the Islamist regime of former dictator Omar al Bashir, the region’s sedentary farming tribes that speak local African languages supported the armed rebel groups.
The regime in turn armed and organized militias of some nomadic Arabic-speaking cattle-herding tribes, whose competition with the African farmers over resources had been intensifying, particularly since the increased desertification in the mid-1980s.
These militias, known as the Janjaweed, committed mass atrocities in coordination with the SAF, whose Darfur commander at the time was Abdel Fattah al Burhan, the current chief of the SAF. The first five years of the civil war left 200,000 to 300,000 dead and millions displaced by 2008. In 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, but he continued to rule for another decade.
The Janjaweed, in the meantime, coalesced to form the RSF in 2013 under the command of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemeti. He has since taken control over much of the mines in Darfur, home to the majority of Sudan’s gold deposits. Sudan is Africa’s third largest producer of the precious metal.
After months of mass pro-democracy protests, which had erupted in December 2018, forced the removal of Bashir in April 2019, his trusted generals, SAF chief Burhan and RSF chief Hemeti, formed a military junta, with the former as its chairman and the latter as his deputy.
After the RSF put down the pro-democracy mass demonstration outside the SAF’s HQ with a massacre on June 3, 2019, the junta agreed to share power with a coalition of right-wing parties in August of that year and formed a joint civilian-military transitional government.
Juba peace agreement reaches a dead-end; Darfur back to civil war
In August 2020, several armed groups, including the JEM in Darfur, went on to sign the Juba peace agreement. This brought no peace to Darfur. Since the agreement was signed, several hundred thousand more have been displaced in attacks by the nomadic Arab tribes, armed and backed by the RSF, which was accused of undertaking a depopulation campaign with the support of SAF.
Nevertheless, the leaders of different armed groups who got a share in state power, including Khamis Abakar, went on to later support the military coup by Burhan and Hemeti in October 2021 to remove the civilians in the transitional government. All state power has since been concentrated in the military junta led by Burhan and Hemeti, with the former rebel commanders also enjoying their share.
Elfadl argued that Abakar had become one of the “collaborators used by the military junta.” After the internal power struggle simmering between the junta’s leaders, Burhan and Hemeti exploded into a war on April 15, pitting SAF and RSF against each other, the RSF, along with the Arab tribes from which its troops hail, have unleashed a mass killing of African tribes. Most of the victims displaced during the civil war were living in camps.
In these circumstances, Abakar, who hails from the Masalit, the largest tribe in the African farming community under attack in Darfur, broke ranks with Hemeti and started organizing defense for his community, explained Elfadl. “So the RSF removed him from the governor’s office by assassination.”
In an interview hours before he was killed, he accused the RSF and its Arab militias of repeating a “genocide.” He had urged the international community to bring the killings to a stop, pointing out that, “Civilians are being killed randomly and in large numbers… We haven’t seen the army leave its base to defend people.”
Abakar’s killing is yet another reiteration that the Juba peace agreement is a dead-end, offering no way out of the spiral of violence, Elfadl argued.
The SCP, the Darfur Bar Association, and the General Coordination of Displaced and Refugees have all criticized the agreement as a mere power-sharing arrangement between the junta and rebel leaders. The key questions of resources and rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have yet to be considered in earnest, making peace in Darfur still out of reach.
Other states in the Darfur region, including South Darfur and North Darfur, have also suffered attacks and killings. Late last month, Minni Minnawi, a former rebel leader of Sudanese Liberation Army’s largest faction, called on people to arm themselves. Minnawi had signed the Juba agreement and went on to support the coup after being appointed the regional governor of Darfur (including five states).
Minnawi’s call to arms, Elfadl argued, is an indication of his “desperation.” “After the Juba agreement, his own armed group splintered into different groups, and he can no longer rely on them. So he is asking others to take up arms,” Elfadl said. “There was no need for him to call on people to take arms. Arms are everywhere in Darfur, and a civil war is already underway. He is only fueling it further.”
His call to arms, Elfadl reiterates, “is only a clear confirmation that the Juba agreement has brought no peace at all to Darfur. On the contrary, Darfur is going through the worst violence it has seen since the beginning of the civil war in 2003.”
“The consequences have been devastating on communities, with over 100,000 people forced to flee across the border to Chad,” Toby Howard, the coordinator of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Darfur, said last week. Another hundred thousand have been displaced within Darfur.
Across Sudan, almost 2.5 million people have been displaced since the war started on April 15. This figure includes an estimated 1.9 million people who have been internally displaced, and another 550,000 who have fled to neighboring countries, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on Monday, June 19.
They include over a million children, 270,000 of whom were displaced in Darfur, which had most of the 3.6 million IDPs already living in camps across Sudan by the end of 2022.
The ceasefire agreement is reported to have reduced the scale of violence in Darfur, although attacks were reported in North Darfur. But the ceasefire expires at six on the morning of Wednesday, June 21.
Democratic forces fight for peace
No resolution to the conflict in Sudan can be brokered by the US and Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, Elfadl argued, adding, “The resolution has to be found here in Sudan.” Left to the international powers to bring the conflict to an end, he warns, Sudan will be hurtling toward a situation comparable to that in Iraq, Syria, or Libya. The war, he argued, can only be stopped decisively after power is “usurped” from the generals, and they are put on trial for igniting this war.
To this end, “we are trying as a first step to find the broadest possible agreement on a common minimum program for Sudan’s future, among all the different political forces who are truly opposed to this war.”
Already, in parts of Sudan where there is no active fighting, protesters are trying to reclaim the streets with anti-war, pro-democracy demonstrations, especially in Atbara, a northeastern city with a militant labor history which saw the first protests of the December Revolution in 2018. “Port Sudan and some other cities in the eastern region have also witnessed protests,” Elfadl said.
“Although not large enough yet, it is the beginning. The democratic forces in Sudan, which are the majority of the population, are gradually trying to occupy the streets again and reclaim the revolution. Yes, it is still in an embryonic stage. But it is the beginning of a long march to return to the scale of mass demonstrations that characterized Sudan before the war started on April 15.”
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