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Posted by African Press International on April 21, 2013

  • Eric Reeves, Smith College, Northampton, MA – USA

There is in Darfur no end in sight for conflict, murder, rape, assaults on displaced persons camps, agricultural and village destruction, brutal extortion schemes, and continuing violent human displacement. The primary targets of this mayhem overseen by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum continue to be primarily civilians from African tribal groups surviving tenuously in an increasingly chaotic Darfur; it is the cruelest of counter-insurgency strategies, since the military opponents of the regime are rebel groups that refuse to accept a peace agreement contrived in Doha (Qatar), not ordinary farmers and landholders. Moreover, for several years an increasing number of Arab tribal groups have been drawn into the fighting, often pitting one Arab group against another; this has produced rapidly growing “collateral damage” as Khartoum seeks to subdue Darfur by means of a war of attrition in which impunity, chaos, and inter-ethnic violence serve the regime’s ultimate military and political purposes. The insecurity consequent upon such polices threatens international relief organizations, many of which have already withdrawn or been expelled, and many more are contemplating withdrawal.

International civilian protection—publicly called for since 2003—has been disastrously inadequate. Since January 1, 2008 the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has failed miserably in providing basic civilian protection, even as it began as the most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world (and is now only one of three in greater Sudan). Throughout Darfur, even as humanitarian assistance is increasingly attenuated and severely threatened, neither the UN nor the AU will speak honestly about these realities, or risk any confrontation with Khartoum and its primary supporters: the Arab League, China, Russia, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and sadly many within the AU. On countless occasions public statements by officials from both the AU and UN have been marked by either disingenuousness or outright mendacity, particularly concerning levels of violence, displacement, and humanitarian conditions and access. Of human mortality totals the UN has long ceased to speak for fear of angering Khartoum; in fact, the extant evidence and data, while certainly incomplete, strongly suggest that half a million people have died from violence and its consequences: exposure, dehydration, disease, and starvation. [1]

The international community, long unwilling to act meaningfully, pretends that a raft of ignored UN Security Council resolutions—filled with “Chapter 7 authority” and various “demands” that have gone entirely unmet by Khartoum—is an adequate diplomatic response. Peace negotiations, under myriad auspices, produced first the disastrously ill-conceived and ill-fated “Darfur Peace Agreement” (2006, Abuja)—an agreement that ensured the fragmentation of Darfur’s rebel movement. More recently (July 2011) the “Doha Document for Peace in Darfur” (DDPD) has served as the diplomatic point of departure, and touchstone for all comments about ending violence in Darfur. This is so even as the DDPD has been overwhelmingly rejected by the major rebel groups and Darfuri civil society, and whose terms have been almost entirely ignored by the Khartoum regime since the time the agreement was signed twenty-one months ago.

The “Responsibility to Protect” (unanimously ratified in the UN General Assembly “Outcome Document” of September 2005 and UN Security Council Resolution 1674 [April 2006]) is among the most serious and conspicuous casualties of the Darfur genocide, and for evidence we need look no further than current international failure to halt Khartoum’s ongoing campaigns of civilian annihilation in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and in Blue Nile. The impunity that sustains the Khartoum regime in its serial atrocity crimes in these two southern states grows directly out of the impunity that has prevailed from the beginning of major violence in Darfur. The deliberate destruction of agricultural production in the Nuba and Blue Nile should remind us of the systematic destruction of food-stocks and seed-stocks, the poisoning of water sources, and the looting or killing of livestock during the Darfur genocide. These are all actions that continue to be reported in Darfur, along with relentless aerial bombardment that directly violates the UN Security Council “demand” (Resolution 1591, March 2005) that all aerial military assaults in Darfur be halted. [2]

And it is of course indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civilian targets that for almost two years has defined Khartoum’s military assault on the Nuba and Blue Nile, where the regime permits no humanitarian relief efforts to reach civilians in rebel-held territory. The bombing attacks—primarily conducted by highly inaccurate Antonov cargo planes from which crude, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs are simply rolled out the cargo bay—are all war crimes under the Rome Statute that provides the statutory basis for the International Criminal Court. Collectively the attacks constitute crimes against humanity under the Statute.

So many and so great are the Khartoum regime’s violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Darfur that a detailed retrospective seems urgently required as violence reaches a new crescendo throughout the region, and the prospects for peace rapidly recede. This brief is the first of several accounts focusing on specific violations of international law—on this occasion analyzing the tactic of deliberately disguising of military aircraft so as to be either unidentifiable or appear to be those of the UN or humanitarian organizations.


Disguising Military Aircraft in a Humanitarian Theater

Resolution 1591, in addition to demanding a halt to all aerial assaults in Darfur, created a UN Panel of Experts (on Darfur), both to verify compliance with the demand that aerial military attacks be halted and to monitor the arms embargo placed on the region. The earlier Panels did a commendable job, identifying not only egregious violations of the arms embargo, but confirming a great many aerial military attacks that violated Res. 1591. Of particular note, the earlier Panels also established early on that Khartoum was clearly deploying aircraft disguised as UN aircraft or painted the white color that ensures the humanitarian neutrality of planes and their cargo. Perhaps in response, the regime has more recently settled on the tactic of marking Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) aircraft with military insignia far too small to be identified from the ground.

Such disguising of aircraft is an extremely serious violation of international law. The significance of such violation was very recently highlighted in The New England Journal of Medicine (March 21, 2013; 368:12):

“In June 1968, a clearly marked Swedish Red Cross plane that was flying relief supplies into the breakaway state of Biafra was shot down by Nigerian fighters. Before the was over, many relief planes would be shot down and far more would crash because the Nigerian government’s shoot-to-kill order forced them to fly at night. The brazen targeting of Red Cross relief flights was hard to imagine. In the minds of some people, however, these attacks were justified by another clear violation humanitarian neutrality: on at least one occasion, a plane painted with the Red Cross insignia was actually carrying weapons. That rare instance of military action masquerading as humanitarian relief completely undermined the neutrality of everyone who operated by the accepted rules of humanitarian assistance, cost the lives of both aid workers and aid recipients, and provided a blanket of impunity for future criminal actions of the Nigerian government.” (p. 1073)

Given this ghastly precedent, why have the UN and the international community been so reluctant to call forceful, consequential attention to these violations in Darfur, which continue on a regular basis? For the use of disguised military aircraft continues to this day, as confirmed to me by two highly experienced regional experts with extensive knowledge of the situation on the ground in Darfur (emails received April 17/18/19, 2013). The UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has repeatedly called attention to this violation of international law in its publicly released UN reports, indeed has provided voluminous evidence, both photographic and by means of eyewitness accounts from vast numbers of Darfuris (all report titles, dates, and key findings about disguised aircraft and ground vehicles may be found in Appendix 1 at; links to the all the reports through 2009 can be found at a Small Arms Survey listing). Here are a few excerpts from the reports:

§45. The Panel has evidence that the Government of the Sudan leased at least one Mi-8 helicopter from a local leasing company of foreign origin. This “white” helicopter has been at the centre of controversy, as it was reported to be previously leased by AMIS and was later leased to the Government of the Sudan with the AMIS sign still affixed (as shown in fig. 2). The continued use of unmarked and/or white helicopters for military use indicates reluctance on the part of the Government to seriously consider the threat this action poses for the United Nations and AMIS.

§46. On several occasions SLA and NMRD [rebel] operatives have threatened to shoot down any white helicopters, including United Nations and AMIS [African Union Mission in Sudan] helicopters, that fly over certain areas in Darfur. They claim this is in response to the Government’s practice of using white helicopters similar to those used by the United Nations and AMIS. This situation has led to at least one incident where United Nations pilots had to take evasive action to avoid bullets fired from the ground, reportedly by members of SLA. (April 2006 report; AMIS was the exceedingly small and weak predecessor to UNAMID)

Offensive military overflight

§201. On 30 June 2006, Panel members travelling by UNMIS helicopter visited Umm Sidr, a position in Northern Darfur held by the G19 [“Group of 19” rebel force]. During discussions with some of the rebel leaders, soldiers and villagers, at about 1200 hours they observed an unmarked white Antonov aircraft circling the area for approximately 45 minutes. The villagers and rebel leaders told the Panel that it was a Government of the Sudan military aircraft, painted white to camouflage as a United Nations or AMIS aircraft, that such intimidating overflights were a regular occurrence in their area, and that they felt threatened as the aircraft often came close to the ground. The Panel members noted the location of the place on the GPS monitor at 25° 09′ 15″ East and 14° 25′ 23″ North. (Panel report to the Security Council, October 2006)

The reports offer a great many other highly detailed examples:

(Figure 9, Unmarked white Antonov aircraft at El-Fasher airport 7 August 2006)

§207. Contrary to the claim of the Government of the Sudan, on 7 August, the Panel saw one white Antonov aircraft stationed at the El-Fasher airport bearing two numbers: one on its tail (7705) and another on its body (26563) (see fig. 9). The aircraft did not bear any emblem or logo. Since the aircraft was guarded by the Sudanese Armed Forces, it is believed to be a Government of the Sudan aircraft. (August 2007 report)

The October 2008 report by the Panel of Experts gives the broadest sense of their collective findings:

SAF white aircraft:

§89. In all of its reports to date the Panel has recorded the ongoing use of white aircraft in Darfur by SAF [the Sudan Armed Forces]. The Panel continued to observe such activities, involving both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, during the present mandate.

Human Rights Watch drew all the appropriate conclusions in their important report of September 2007 (“Chaos by Design“):

“Government forces have used military aircraft painted white—the color used by UN and AMIS forces—for reconnaissance, supply operations, and attacks. At a distance, the aircraft resemble United Nations and AMIS planes and Mi-8 helicopters; sometimes they even have UN markings. Use of these white aircraft for military purposes is a violation of international humanitarian law, specifically the improper use of the United Nations emblem, and, when simulating the protected status of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian operations to conduct attacks, the prohibition against perfidy. Use of these planes puts genuine UN, humanitarian, and AMIS flights at risk because rebels might mistake them for legitimate military targets. People in desperate need of aid may flee from humanitarian flights if they cannot distinguish them from government military aircraft. [36]

[36] UN Panel of Experts, “Interim report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan, submitted pursuant to resolution 1713 (2006),” unpublished, paras. 93-98 and 136.

The Human Rights Watch report continued:

“The United Nations has in the past urged the Sudanese government not to use white aircraft that resemble its own, saying it endangers the peacekeepers. The UN Panel of Experts’ 2007 report described multiple sightings of white helicopters in Darfur during 2007. The report described two white Mi-171 helicopters painted with military registrations, neither of which displayed a Sudanese flag painted on the aircraft. ‘The Panel believes this is a method to further conceal their identity so that from a moderate distance they resemble United Nations or AMIS Mi-8 helicopters used in Darfur.'”


“Photos from the report, all dated from 2007, show a white Fantan A-5 helicopter at Nyala airport, a white Mi-24 at Khartoum International Airport, a white Antonov (An-12) plane at El-Geneina, a white Antonov (An-26) with UN markings at El Fasher, and another white Antonov (An-26) at Khartoum airport.


“The UN Panel of Experts said, ‘the extensive use of white aircraft by the Government of the Sudan, including the use of white Antonov aircraft in some of the 66 aerial attacks catalogued by the Panel between September 2006 and July 2007, constitutes a serious obstruction to the work of AMIS and the United Nations. In one instance the Panel found that the Government of the Sudan had used a white Antonov aircraft with “UN” markings in offensive military overflights’ A Security Council resolution prohibits Sudan from conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region.”


The highly authoritative Small Arms Survey (Geneva) provided a detailed account of the aircraft in question:


“Russian Mi-17 and Mi-32 helicopter gunships, Sukhoi and MiG-29 fighter jets, and Chinese-made A-5 ‘Fantan’ jets have all been sighted in Darfur, as well as white Antonov 26 transport aircraft used as crude bombers. The UN Panel has provided evidence that Antonovs have been painted white—the colour of many UN and relief agency planes flying in Darfur. One had ‘UN’ painted on a wing in a clear attempt to disguise its identity.” (November 2010)

The follow year (2008) Sudan Tribune reported on another highly consequential violation, one of many that could have been reported:

“A white helicopter not marked with the UN emblem or any identifiable markings was seen Monday flying over a southern area of North Darfur state, where the majority of villages are controlled by the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction led by Abdel Wahid Al-Nur.

“White government aircraft have previously attacked civilians in both the current conflict in Darfur and during Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war. A September 2007 report to the UN Security Council by a five-person panel of experts revealed that white-painted government military planes were used for aerial surveillance, arms shipments and attacks on villages. Consistent use of white aircraft for military operations could make them a more likely target for rebel fighters, thus raising the danger for UN aircrews. Rebels from both SLA and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have already demonstrated their ability to down helicopters in multiple confirmed instances.” (Sudan Tribune, September 23, 2008)

The danger to peacekeepers was underscored in the same Sudan Tribune dispatch:

“A helicopter of the hybrid peacekeeping force was shot at in western Darfur on [Monday] August 11, [2008] and another was damaged by gunfire on September 14, [2008] as it was on its way to Shangil Tobaya from Tawila town, about 37 km before Shangil Tobaya UNAMID base camp. In this instance [of a SAF disguised aerial military flight], the helicopter appears to have been scouting an area southeast of Kabkabiya.”

Again, the Panel of Experts was explicit in its findings about not only disguised white SAF aircraft, but the actual use on the UN emblem on aircraft:

“The panel noted with concern that the [SAF] plane had a UN logo painted on the top of its left wing.”

The dangers created by such disguise are made all too explicit by the Panel in its October 2008 report:

§92. The Panel gained first-hand knowledge of this threat on 11 August 2008, when a white United Nations Mi-8 helicopter transporting the Panel to the Jebel Moon area of Darfur for a verification mission was targeted and fired upon by JEM combatants. Subsequent communications with JEM on the issue revealed that the combatants on the ground had mistaken the United Nations aircraft for a Government white helicopter and as such perceived it to be a viable military target.

All this should be borne in mind not only for Darfur, but for South Sudan, where Khartoum also uses disguised white or UN-marked aircraft to deliver military supplies to the increasingly violent rebel force of David Yau Yau in Jonglei State, as well as other renegade rebel groups. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) mistakenly shot down a Russian helicopter from the very area in Jonglei where this aerial re-supply has occurred; and yet it was not Khartoum that was the focus of international outrage but Juba. Coming so quickly in the wake of the shoot-down, and in the absence of an investigation, such condemnation was entirely premature (see That Khartoum has not been held accountable—either for its disguised military aircraft in Darfur or its similar tactics in supplying Yau Yau—does much to explain the regime’s diplomatic intransigence.

[ Reports from the ground in South Sudan also indicate that at on at least one occasion crude “UN” lettering was painted on an SAF aircraft, with the two letters disproportionate in size. ]

In Darfur, reports of disguised military aircraft have continued to pour in from a range of sources—including various reports from the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur—and it is clear that the practice continues. As a token gesture Khartoum sometimes now puts on its military aircraft very small SAF roundels or and a tactical (military) SAF registration on the tail or body (usually a four-digit number). But these are both far too small to be seen or identified from the ground, especially on an Antonov, which frequently flies as high as 5,000 meters so as to avoid ground fire. This is an obvious and highly consequential violation of Preambular Paragraph 7, Resolution 1841 (2008), which “[demands] that there should be no aerial bombings nor the use in Darfur, by any party of the conflict, of white aircraft or aircraft with markings resembling those on United Nations aircraft.”

Much of this was detailed in an extraordinary report by former members of the UN Panel of Experts (on Darfur) that first appeared in .early in 2012. There they observe that:

“As during previous mandates, the Members of the Panel have on numerous occasions (detailed below) observed white Antonov-26 and Antonov-32 aircraft on the military aprons at both El Fasher and Nyala airports, marked with small military (numerical) registrations, operated by military personnel, and in El Fasher surrounded by visible aircraft bombs.”

It is also reliably reported from the region that SAF Antonovs sometimes carry Sudanese civilian registrations alongside their military registrations. An eyewitness reports that one SAF aircraft often seen in Darfur is all-white, with no markings except very small SAF roundels. This is an Ilyushin-76, formerly ST-AZZ of Azza Transport. It is reportedly used for military transport rather than aerial assaults, but still constitutes a significant violation of international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Why has nothing been done in response to this outrageous endangerment of humanitarians and peacekeepers traveling by air? To be sure, the U.S., the UN Secretariat, and the EU on occasion register their disapproval:

“The European Union condemned on Tuesday the Sudanese military’s use of white aircraft in strife-torn Darfur, calling it a deliberate attempt to create confusion with UN planes. ‘The European Union calls on the Sudanese authorities to put an immediate end to the military operations which started a few days ago in Darfur,’ the bloc’s French presidency said in a statement. ‘It condemns the use of white aircraft in these operations, which is deliberately intended to create confusion with United Nations aircraft,’ it said, calling on all parties to abide by international law.” (Agence France-Presse [Brussels], September 23, 2008)

But of course such condemnations are completely ignored by Khartoum; it is likely that the EU issued a similar statement the preceding year, and subsequently—to no effect, with not credible threat of sanctions. Indeed, in the end it was the regime’s own blustering anger that seems to have forestalled sanctions by the UN Security Council, which actually has a committee tasked with monitoring Darfur sanctions issues. In 2007, in response to the leaked UN Panel of Experts report, Khartoum’s representative to the UN fulminated mindlessly, but with clearly implicit threats:

“Sudan lashed out on Thursday at a leak of a UN report that accused Khartoum of violating an arms embargo by flying military aircraft in Darfur and painting planes to make them look like UN aircraft. Khartoum’s UN ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, in a letter to the head of the Security Council’s sanctions committee on Sudan, said the ‘enemies of peace and stability in Sudan’ leaked the report to overshadow recent positive peacekeeping developments for turbulent Darfur, where 2 million people have been made homeless. The report was compiled by outside experts for the council’s committee, which includes all 15 member nations, and was published by The New York Times on its Web site on Tuesday.” (Reuters [UN/New York], April 19, 2007)

Those who leaked this report, compiled by distinguished experts in their respective fields, are “enemies of peace and stability in Sudan”—and faced with such “enemies,” Khartoum will take the opportunity to expel any who might be among their number. Of course the first major expulsions were to be of humanitarian relief organizations: thirteen were expelled in March 2009, representing roughly the total humanitarian capacity in Darfur at the time (there had been previous expulsions and many subsequently). The “expulsion” of the UN Panel of Experts, authorized by a UN Security Council Resolution, proved to be more difficult and required different tactics. Putting immense pressure on the feckless UN Secretariat—and assisted by arms suppliers China and Russia (China has repeatedly objected to reports that name Beijing as a violator of the Darfur arms embargo)—Khartoum demanded in effect that newly mandated Panel members be to their liking. And over time they have got their way. This acquiescence comes at considerable cost to the effectiveness of the international presence in Darfur.

The Panel made clear in its October 2007 report that its work was already seriously compromised by Khartoum’s actions:

“the use of white Antonov aircraft in some of the 66 aerial attacks catalogued by the Panel between September 2006 and July 2007, constitutes a serious obstruction to the work of AMIS and the United Nations.”

Undoubtedly there were a great many more such attacks that went un-cataloged—perhaps many times as many. The refusal to take such concerns seriously, the refusal of the UN Security Council to support its own Panel of Experts, was one reason that three of the most capable former members of the Panel circulated to the Security Council last year an unofficial report on the situation in Darfur, one that contrasted sharply with the inept and slovenly report by the “official” Panel covering the same period of time. The current nominations for the Panel are indeed much more to Khartoum’s liking; several are of Arab descent or from Arab countries or are known to have pro-Khartoum sympathies—hardly appropriate choices given Arab/non-Arab tensions in Darfur—and their qualifications and neutrality have been sharply questioned by those who know their work best. All three former experts resigned from the Panel in disgust at the politicization of the work in Darfur, and the carelessness with which this critical research is destined to be conducted for the foreseeable future.


What is perhaps most striking about the reports is the precipitous fall-off in accounts by the Panel of disguised or white-painted aircraft and ground vehicles. The report of November 2008 runs to many pages on the subject; the report of October 2009 has no references to white or disguised aircraft—none. Intervening of course is the March 2009 expulsion of thirteen humanitarian organizations, together constituting roughly half the relief capacity in the region. News and human rights organizations had been barred from Darfur for some time, and the intimidation of UNAMID increased dramatically during this period. Denials of access and aggressively hostile accusations become standard burdens for the Mission. In 2008, the first year of UNAMID’s official deployment, Khartoum mounted two extremely serious military attacks on UNAMID—one with SAF forces, another deadly assault by means of militia proxies. More recently, the October 2012 attack on a large, well-armed UNAMID convoy attempting to investigate atrocity crimes at Hashaba (North Darfur) was also the work of regime-allied militias. In this attack one peacekeeper was killed and several seriously wounded.

There can be little doubt that both the UN and AU have been thoroughly intimidated, and despite the Status of Forces Agreement (January 2008)—guaranteeing UNAMID freedom of access—such access has not and will not be granted, not without international pressure of a sort not seen in the more than five years of UNAMID’s existence. Most consequentially, UNAMID has proved itself—as a UN/AU “hybrid”—incapable of halting Khartoum’s continuing use of disguised military aircraft, inviting precisely the sort of disaster that occurred in Nigeria in summer 1968. There are few better measures of the Khartoum regime’s callousness than such conspicuous violation of international law.


[1] The last professional epidemiological study of mortality in Darfur was conducted by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Violence (CRED) (Olivier Degomme and Debarati Guha-Sapir in “Patterns of mortality rates in Darfur conflict,” The Lancet, January 23, 2010 (pages 294-300, Although likely accurate in its estimate of those who had perished from the consequences of violence—primarily displacement without the resources necessary for survival—the report bewilderingly uses a fully discredited UN State Department estimate for violent mortality in the first year of conflict—perhaps the most violent and destructive year of all. This leads to a gross understatement of overall violent mortality. The document is also very poorly informed in its understanding of the dynamics and history of the conflict in Darfur, and Sudanese political history generally. The report was also unable to take advantage of important data promulgated in summer 2010 by “Darfurian Voices“; it was on the basis of these data that I calculated approximately 300,000 had died directly from violence (or its immediate aftermath), and approximately 200,000 from the effects of that violence (this is the figure that accords with the CRED finding). There have been no mortality studies of any sort since my effort of August 2010, more than two and a half years ago).


[2] The actual language of Resolution 1591 is important: “[The UN Security Council] Demands that the Government of Sudan, in accordance with its commitments under the 8 April 2004 N’djamena Ceasefire Agreement and the 9 November 2004 Abuja Security Protocol, immediately cease conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region.” This includes all military flights, since the Darfur theater does not provide occasion for “defensive” military flights. All military flights are thus ipso facto violations of this “demand.”

The rebel groups have no military aircraft, so they cannot be used as a justification for aerial military responses by Khartoum. Military aircraft might conceivably be used to defend threatened military positions, but such a joint ground/air operation seems exceedingly unlikely and almost certainly beyond the ability of the SAF air force. The blunt truth now is the same as it was more than eight years ago when Resolution 1591 was passed by the Security Council: the overwhelming number of aerial attacks are directed not against military targets, but civilians and civilian resources—mainly by Antonov cargo planes, which have no militarily useful bombing accuracy. The violations of the arms embargo on Darfur, which has never meant anything to the regime, are also conducted by military aircraft.

As the UN Panel of Experts put the matter in its October 2008 report:

Offensive military overflights

§95. In line with past practice the Panel continues to define as offensive military overflights acts falling within the following categories:

(a) Disproportionate use of aircraft beyond that which is required to neutralize a clear and imminent threat;

(b) Unprovoked attack with aircraft, such as strafing or indiscriminate bombardment of civilian targets;

(c) Use of aircraft in support of ground operations preparing for or engaging in an attack;

(d) Retaliatory attack, i.e. action in response to a prior attack;

(e) Flights that deposit troops for participation in an attack;

(f) Operation of aircraft in such a manner to intimidate, frighten or harass;

For example, flying mock attack runs, circling over an area for a considerable period of time, destroying buildings with rotor wash, generating sonic booms, etc.

Since the passage of Resolution 1591, more than 500 confirmed offensive bombing attacks against civilians in Darfur have been recorded (see spreadsheet).



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Khartoum Orchestrates Violence in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, South Sudan

Posted by African Press International on April 5, 2013

A number of very recent, highly credible, ground-based reports indicate that Khartoum‘s regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Arab militia proxies have attacked the Kiir Adem area of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal State, South Sudan. What makes these attacks—which have killed a number of Southern civilians and police officers—so alarming is that they have occurred in the immediate wake of the Government of South Sudan‘s complying with the agreement brokered in Addis Ababa to withdraw its military forces from this border area, even as Khartoum committed to a simultaneous withdrawal of its own forces. There have been several such attacks in recent days, and we should recall that the Kiir Adem area has been a dangerous flashpoint for conflict over the past two and a half years, going back to the bombing of the region on December 14, 2010. Khartoum of course denied the bombing, as it denies all bombing attacks on civilians, even when UN observes or international journalists are present. The Kiir Adem bombing, for example, was witnessed by an Associated Press reporter who was present at the time and reported in detail on what she saw. (For a full account of Khartoum’s record of bombing South Sudan since the signing of the CPA, see “They Bombed Everything that Moved.”)

The most recent attack on Kiir Adem could hardly be a more provocative—an armed assault on a region supposedly in the process of being demilitarized by both parties. And yet the UN seems unwilling to investigate or report what it has been told by those on the ground. Neither the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan (UNMISS) nor the UN peacekeeping force in Abyei (UNISFA) has regarded the attacks as sufficiently threatening or urgent to confirm, this despite the fact that the Sudan Tribune first reported attacks on March 26, 2013 (see below).

Expedient myopia in the present instance is of a piece with the broader failure of the international community to see connections between the various intensifying crises throughout greater Sudan; this failure continues a pattern that extends back decades. Rapidly escalating violence and insecurity in Darfur, ongoing genocide by attrition in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and more than two years of provocative assaults along the North/South border are all related. And if there is no straight-line connection between them, the common denominator is the ruthless survivalism of the National Islamic Front/ National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum. The regime is more deeply threatened than at any time in recent history, and we may be sure that efforts at survival by these brutal men will entail using whatever means are necessary, certainly including prevarication, opacity of public declarations, contradiction between statements by various officials, outright mendacity—and of course reneging on signed agreements.

Thus with an almost formulaic predictability, the regime has succeeded in making just the right number of promises, apparent concessions, and public relations efforts to deflate international outrage at the collective assault on the people of Sudan, including also the long-suffering people of eastern Sudan and Nubia in the far north. The remoteness of Kiir Adem from the oil regions evidently ensures that it will not be central to international concerns about continuing North/South conflict.

The scale of Khartoum’s dissimulation should be shocking—certainly if we look closely at the realities in Darfur. Zambian jurist and International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently declared “we must not forget victims of the Darfur genocide,” reminding us of what has produced arrest warrants for senior Khartoum regime officials on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Current realities—unfiltered by the anodyne and disingenuous reports of the UN/African Union (“hybrid”) Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)—reveal human security is in free-fall (see March 10, 2013 account). The consequences of this rapid increase in violence, over the past nine months and more, are a further deterioration of humanitarian capacity and access, and a corresponding deterioration in provision of food, clean water, and primary medical care (see overview of February 11, 2013). UNAMID is powerless to provide the civilian and humanitarian protection that is central to its mandate; indeed, it is repeatedly prevented by Khartoum from undertaking either the assessment or protection missions that are so urgently required. The epidemic of rape that continues to rage throughout the region is passed over with virtually no notice. The recent convening of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) in Darfur produced not a frank assessment, but a shamefully bland final statement that was emphatic chiefly in its thanks to Khartoum for permitting this highly controlled visit.

In the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and in Blue Nile, Khartoum continues to bomb civilians and civilian targets—including agriculture—with merciless frequency and intensity. The regime also maintains its complete embargo on international humanitarian relief aid, sending more than 200,000 refugees into South Sudan and tens of thousands more into refugee camps in Ethiopia. The brutality of this campaign of extermination continues despite, indeed in large measure because of the inability of regular and militia ground forces to seize the military initiative, especially in the Nuba. Khartoum is quite simply prepared to starve the people of these regions as a means of subduing the insurgency.

The UN, African Union, and Arab League offered a plan for international access to the regions well over a year ago; it has so far yielded nothing, largely because none of these organizations is prepared to pressure Khartoum over the issue, and the broader international community has responded to this extraordinarily cruel human destruction with nothing more than tepid words of condemnation. Negotiations are continually urged, but Khartoum refuses to engage with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N). There are no plans in place to create humanitarian corridors into either region, and the rainy season once again approaches. Once roads are flooded, there will be no opportunity to move food in large quantities to most parts of the two regions. Given the exceedingly poor sorghum harvest this year, starvation will soon accelerate rapidly; children in particular are already dying from malnutrition.

Khartoum has repeatedly assaulted South Sudan with air attacks, both before and after the self-determination referendum of January 2011. There were repeated, confirmed attacks in November and December 2010, and an attack within days of the referendum itself. In November 2011 Khartoum deliberately bombed the large refugee camp in Yida (Unity State, South Sudan), as well as camps in Upper Nile. Moreover, there have been continual cross-border assaults in the wake of the military seizure of Abyei (May 2011). Here we must remember that if the “residents of Abyei” had been allowed to vote in their own self-determination referendum—as guaranteed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005)—they would have voted overwhelmingly to join the South. Despite Khartoum’s outrageous violation of the CPA, the international community’s response was muted, emboldening the regime to go forward with its assaults in South Kordofan (June 5, 2011) and Blue Nile (September 2011).

International outrage was stirred only a year ago when, after a series of provocative military actions by Khartoum’s SAF along the South Kordofan/Unity State border—including two assaults on the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) garrison at Tishwin—Juba struck back and seized the crucial Heglig oil station, in the area from which the SAF had launched its attacks (March/April 2012). Geographic ignorance, indeed outright error, about the nature of the border dispute in this region was accompanied by an intemperate international condemnation of Juba. In fact, Juba’s account of the chain of events was essentially confirmed by UN observers on the ground, part of the excessively constrained UNMISS. Although the SPLA withdrew, the asymmetric nature of the international response to Juba’s supposed “provocation” left a bitter taste in the mouth of Government of South Sudan (GOSS) officials. All this was made even more distasteful by the concurrent misrepresentation of what had, and had not, been determined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (The Hague) in its July 2009 decision concerning Abyei’s boundaries.

So it is hardly surprising that we are hearing so little of the recent assaults on Kiir Adem in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, from which the SPLA has withdrawn its forces in accord with the cease-fire agreement and provision for a demilitarized zone between the forces of Sudan and South Sudan; the SAF has not. UNMISS regards the area as “contested” and thus beyond its reporting mandate, at least in conducting first-hand investigations. And so far, the third UN peacekeeping force in greater Sudan—the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA)—has proved unable or unwilling to patrol and investigate this flash-point to the west of their mandated area of responsibility.

Amidst apparent agreement on the resumption of oil production and transport, the international community—the UN and AU in particular—seems willing to take whatever Khartoum offers as further signs that peace is about to break out. Thus the announcement that Khartoum’s President al-Bashir will visit Juba; the expediently timed announcement that the regime will release some political prisoners (who may of course easily be re-arrested); the vague suggestion that the regime might be willing to negotiate with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N); the shift in rhetoric within the state-controlled media; and the African Union Peace and Security Council’s upbeat assessment of Darfur following its recent mission to the region—all this is hastily and unambiguously welcomed by various international actors, and no one is asking what is signified by the attack on Kiir Adem.

But if Khartoum truly wishes to make peace with Juba, it knows what it must do—and attacking an area from which the SPLA has recently withdrawn as part of a cease-fire agreement is profoundly counter-productive. Killing civilians and policemen no longer defended by the army of South Sudan sends all the wrong signals to Juba, as Khartoum well knows. The provocation is deliberate, and all evidence to date argues that this is no free-lance action, but an operation with senior army approval. Juba’s anger is not factitious but grows out of repeated failures by the international community to hold Khartoum accountable for its military provocations.

To date, this is what has been reported in public sources (primarily the Sudan Tribune) and confidential sources on the ground and by the SPLA/M. The most recent and complete overview is provided by Sudan Tribune (April 1, 2013, Juba: “South accuses Sudan of launching attack ahead of Bashir’s visit”):

• “South Sudan on Monday accused neighbouring Sudan of ‘deliberately’ launching a new ground attack on its border state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, underlying the level of suspicion with which the two countries still view each other, despite a recent thawing of relations. Local authorities and security sources said in series of interviews with Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the attack took place in Kiir Adem, an area that falls within the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ) which the two sides agreed to establish under African Union mediation in September last year, but only implemented recently. One policeman was killed and seven others reportedly wounded during the attack….

“James Monday, the spokesperson of South Sudan Police, also confirmed the attack, but said the situation was brought ‘under control’ and that the police are ready to protect the lives and properties of the population in the area. The commissioner for Aweil North County, Kuol Athuai Hal, said the attack was jointly organised by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), armed Arab nomads and paramilitary forces.

“‘This attack did not come as a surprise to us and the people of the area. We knew it would happen especially after they were defeated on 26 of March when they launched a similar attack. We alsodo not think that this attack will be the last, Hal told Sudan Tribune by phone Sunday. He anticipates attacks could occur, given what he describes as a political scheme by the Sudan government ‘designed to execute in order to claim territory control and eventual annexation into territory.'”

• Voice of America reports from Juba (March 29, 2013):

“South Sudan said Friday that Khartoum is doing nothing to stop attacks by Arab nomads on communities near the border of the two countries, adding that it has filed a complaint with the United Nations security forces about the attacks. Earlier this week, members of the Rezigat tribe, which is from Sudan, killed three people, including two police officers, in a raid in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Last month, the Sudanese Miseriya tribe raided a community in Unity State, killing three people and wounding five. The deadly attack by the Rezigat came days after South Sudan completed its withdrawal of troops from the border, in line with an agreement signed with Sudan.”

• Also on March 29, Radio Tamazuj reported (“Aguer: Armed group ‘linked to SAF’ killed 3 at Kiir Adem”):

“Philip Aguer, South Sudan’s army spokesman, said yesterday that an armed group on horseback, allegedly linked to the Sudanese military, killed three people in an attack on the disputed border area of Kiir Adem.Speaking to Radio Tamazuj, Aguer reported that the attack took place yesterday and a policeman was amongst the victims. The South Sudanese government considers Kiir Adem to be part of its Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state.Given that both Sudan and South Sudan have withdrawn their armies from the border area in order to create demilitarized zones, Aguer claimed that the attack must have been with the assistance of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).‘They carried out attack on citizens while riding horses and killed two civilians and a policeman. According to us, any armed person from the republic of Sudan is linked and have a relations with Sudanese forces where the Mujahideen or popular defence forces or even militias of Baggara and Reizegat because they got the guns from SAF,’ Aguer claimed before adding that the attack constitutes a violation of the demilitarisation agreement.

“‘We have raised a complaint to UNISFA forces and African Union forces over what happened in Kiir Adem … The same violation also happened in the Renk area of Adham where elements of the Sudanese forces appeared with three vehicles loaded with heavy guns machines and opened fire in the space,’ added the spokesman.”

• Sudan Tribune had earlier reported (March 27, 2013, “Three dead in Reizigat attack on Mile 14, says official”):

“Members of Sudan’s nomadic Arab Reizigat tribe have launched a deadly attack on South Sudanese civilians in the disputed Mile 14 territory in North Bahr-el-Gazal on Tuesday. The incident, which took place at about 4pm (local time), led to the death of two policemen and one civilian….

“Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday in Juba, police spokesman Col. James Monday Enoka called on the African Union (AU) to take action, saying the deadly incident had occurred just two weeks after the SPLA’s withdrawal from Mile 14. ‘It is very unfortunate that the Reizigat took advantage of [the] withdrawal of the SPLA from the area and launch[ed] the attack,’ he said. ‘[The] South Sudan National Police Services strongly condemns this attack and appeals to the African Union monitoring and verification teams to take action,’ he added.”

• The Sudan Tribune had reported the previous day (March 26, 2013: “Sudan: South Accuses Sudan of Killing Three People in Northern Bahr El Ghazal”):

“South Sudan has accused the government of neigbouring Sudan of launching a heavy and coordinated attack on its Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, killing at least three innocent civilians and wounding several others in Rual Horic, east of the disputed Kiir Adem area, local people and county authorities said on TuesdayAweil North county commissioner, Kuol Athuai Hal said Sudan was using armed border tribes and auxiliary forces to launch provocative attacks in an attempt to derail efforts to peacefully implement a cooperation agreement signed in September 2012.

“After months of stalling the two sides agreed to implement the deal, which will create a demilitarised buffer zone 10 km either side of the tense and contested oil rich border, as well as allow South Sudan to resume exporting its oil through Sudan for the first time in over a year. ‘The Sudanese armed forces have been increasingly active in the area this week. The activity zone of the Sudanese armed forces has expanded considerably from last week, immediately realising that SPLA forces have completely pulled out of the area. Their activities in the area are becoming serious security concern not only to the civil population but also us in the government,’ Hal told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday from Gokmachar, the area’s administrative headquarters.

“The official said three people were killed when armed Arab tribes backed by the Sudan Armed Forces collaborating with their aligned militia carried out a raid on the area. ‘They killed three civilians who have gone to fish. They [the civilians] were found at the fishing site when they were killed. None of them had survived. This incident occurred today at around 11:30am. It was in Rual Horic, east of Kiir Adem. Another attack was carried out by the Sudanese armed forces themselves in Kiir Adem against civilians. They just opened fire on civilians. The civilians were unaware. They did not know. It was a surprised and well-organised attack. The intention is to chase civilians away from the area,’ Hal said….”

“There is a United Nations mission in South Sudan with a strong chapter seven mandate to protect civilians but policing the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ) is due to be monitored by the UN peacekeeping force in Abyei—the main disputed border region—as part of a Joint Border Verification Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) with military officials from both nations. ‘There was another attack today. Three people have been killed in Rual Horic, East of Kiir Adem The Sudanese armed forces are taking advantage of the withdrawal of SPLA forces from the area. They have moved into the area in full capacity. Instead of withdrawing they are deploying and carrying out attacks and killing of innocent civilians. What is happening is a political strategy by the government of Sudan so that civilians can flee the area. This is clear a clear tactic,’ explained Achien.

“‘Why [do] the Sudanese Armed Forces continue to remain in the area which is supposed to be arms free? Why is the international community keeping quiet? Why is the African Union? We will hold [them] responsible for the loss of lives,’ Achein said.”

Questions that cannot be ignored

These last questions remain unanswered, even as the reports I have received from the ground confirm what Sudan Tribune and others have reported.

Is there a discernible strategy in these actions on the part of the regime’s regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and its Rizeigat militia allies? Certainly in assessing the consequences of its actions on the basis of international silence, the regime has concluded that it can be credited with a cease-fire and separation of forces agreement even while blatantly violating that agreement. Moreover, it is unlikely that the SAF will cease its various actions along a border that is much too long to be effectively monitored with present resources and mandates. UNISFA’s initial failure in Kiir Adem is a sign of what is to come, with grim parallels to UNAMID in Darfur.

There seem to be two most likely explanations for the attacks on Kiir Adem, neither of them encouraging for a broader peace:

[1] These are the actions of a regime determined to keep international attention focused on North/South issues, at the expense of South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Darfur, and other marginalized regions of eastern Sudan and Nubia in the far north. Khartoum is calculating that if the North/South border remains sufficiently “hot”—but not so hot as to convince Juba once again to suspend oil production and transit—then all real international efforts, diplomatic and political, will stay focused narrowly on avoiding war between Khartoum and Juba. A strategy very much like this was deployed by the regime during the final months of the CPA: all negotiating issues of substance were settled by May 2004, and only narrowly technical issues remained. But the genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur was then at its height, and Khartoum was determined that international attention remain focused on the talks in Naivasha (Kenya); and there was in fact a disgraceful muting of criticism for many months before the CPA was finally signed in January 2005.

In 2010 the regime again saw that the U.S. was so focused on securing the January 2011 self-determination referendum for the South that it essentially abandoned Abyei—demanding that Juba “compromise” further over the final status of the region despite the explicit terms of the Abyei Protocol in the CPA and the July 2009 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Current Secretary of State John Kerry—then Senator Kerry but serving as an ad hoc Obama administration envoy—went so far as to declare that the CPA should not be held hostage to “a few hundred square miles” of disputed territory (Reuters [Khartoum], October 25, 2010). Not only was Kerry egregiously in error about the size of Abyei—it is only slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut, which neighbors Kerry’s own Massachusetts—but as subsequent events would dramatically prove, Abyei was at the very center of the viability of the CPA from the perspective of the South. The Obama administration’s willingness to trade it out on the basis of ignorance and expediency was not lost on Juba—or Khartoum.

Certainly Khartoum hopes that in any final delineation and demarcation of the North/South border, Kiir Adem and a number of other areas in Northern and Western Bahr el-Ghazal (e.g., the Kafia Kingi enclave) will be placed in the north. And as Abyei reveals, Khartoum is perfectly willing to seize militarily what it cannot win by diplomacy. But at the present time, a strong case can be made that the attacks on Kiir Adem and other areas along the border (Unity and Upper Nile states in particular) are meant to be provocative, meant to convince the international community that the agreements on oil and a demilitarized zone along the border are not guaranteed, and that further diplomatic resources and commitment are required. These will inevitably come at the expense of the Nuba, Blue Nile, Darfur, and other marginalized regions of Sudan.

[2] It is also distinctly possible that the attacks on Kiir Adem are further evidence of the depth of the split within the regime—between the security “hard-liners” and army generals on the one hand, and the political officials who have been ascendant for most of the NIF/NCP tyranny on the other. Here it is important to recall again the extraordinarily revealing dispatch by Julie Flint in summer 2011 after the assault on the Nuba had begun, making clear there would be very little room for civilians in the new configuration of power:

“[A] well-informed source close to the National Congress Party reports that Sudan’s two most powerful generals went to [Sudanese President Omar al-] Bashir on May 5 [2011], five days after 11 soldiers were killed in an SPLA ambush in Abyei, on South Kordofan’s southwestern border, and demanded powers to act as they sought fit, without reference to the political leadership.” [These generals are named below—ER]

“‘They got it,’ the source says. ‘It is the hour of the soldiers—a vengeful, bitter attitude of defending one’s interests no matter what; a punitive and emotional approach that goes beyond calculation of self-interest. The army was the first to accept that Sudan would be partitioned. But they also felt it as a humiliation, primarily because they were withdrawing from territory in which they had not been defeated. They were ready to go along with the politicians as long as the politicians were delivering—but they had come to the conclusion they weren’t. Ambushes in Abyei…interminable talks in Doha keeping Darfur as an open wound…. Lack of agreement on oil revenue….’ ‘It has gone beyond politics,’ says one of Bashir’s closest aides. ‘It is about dignity.'” (Daily Star [Lebanon], August 2, 2011)

The power of the army soon became clear when a “Framework Agreement” between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N) and Khartoum—represented by the powerful presidential aide Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e—was abruptly abrogated. Committing the regime to negotiate a cease-fire and address political grievances in South Kordofan (Blue Nile was not yet caught up in the conflict), the June 28, 2011 agreement might have been the basis for ending what is now a conflict affecting more than 2 million people—perhaps 1 million of them refugees or internally displaced, and more than 1 million people facing increasingly stark food shortages. But despite Nafi’e’s putative authority, three days later—clearly under pressure from the same powerful army generals—President al-Bashir renounced the agreement (July 1, 2011), declaring that the “cleansing” operation in the Nuba would continue:

“[al-Bashir] directed the armed forces to continue their military operations in South Kordofan until a ‘cleansing of the region is over,’ SUNA quoted Bashir as telling worshippers during Friday prayers.”

The commitment to civilian destruction as a means of conducting counter-insurgency had once again been embraced by the NIF/NCP regime (see also my contemporaneous analysis at Dissent,A Creeping Coup in Khartoum,” August 10, 2011).

There has been considerable subsequent evidence of the ascendancy of the military, specifically a cabal of generals who have a record of extreme brutality and callousness, and who will surely end up in The Hague if the regime falls:

• Lt. General Ismat Abdel Rahman al-Zain: he is implicated in Darfur atrocity crimes because of his role as SAF director of operations (Khartoum); he is also identified in the “Confidential Annex” to the report by UN panel of Experts on Darfur (the Annex was leaked in February 2006); Ismat was one of the two generals who in May 2011 confronted al-Bashir, demanding that the military take over decisions about war and peace in Abyei and other border regions.

• Major-General Mahjoub Abdallah Sharfi: he is head of the brutally efficient Military Intelligence, and was the second of the two generals who in May 2011 confronted al-Bashir.

• Major General Bakri Salih: he is the former Defense Minister and now a very powerful senior minister for presidential affairs. The current political environment in Khartoum is one that suits him particularly well.

• General Awad Ibn Auf: he is the former head of Military Intelligence and gave the order for the SAF and Janjaweed “to destroy everything” in Darfur (2003).

• Major General Ahmad Khamis: he was commander of the 14th Sudan Armed Forces infantry division in Kadugli during the large-scale atrocity crimes committed in June–July 2011).

If these are the men making the decision about whether or not to pursue peace, about whether the agreement about border demilitarization will be honored, then the attack on Kiir Adem has even grimmer implications. Their commitment to a military solution to outstanding issues between Juba and Khartoum may well include the ambition to seize Southern oil fields, both in Unity State and Upper Nile. Any such military move would guarantee a return to full-scale, unfathomably destructive war.

What is notable is that the international community hasn’t a clue as to which of these two explanations for the Kiir Adem attacks—coming at such a crucial moment—is the right one. The solution seems to be simply to ignore the issues altogether, and continue to focus on negotiations which may be undermined by the very narrowness of focus that governs talks in Addis Ababa. We have seen this pattern too many times before.

APPENDIX: Economic circumstances govern in complex ways

The backdrop for any understanding of Khartoum’s military decision-making must remain an economy that continues in sharp decline. Even with the excessively optimistic predictions about the resumption of oil exports from Port Sudan, and the desperately needed foreign exchange currency which that oil will bring, there is no chance that growing economic hardships will fade away. These hardships will govern decision-making in any number of ways, but it is essential to understand their scale in making sense of regime decisions, especially in light of the circumstances of previous civil unrest and regime changes in Sudanese history.

Inflation increased to 46 percent in February 2013—and this is according to the figures released by the regime; real inflation, especially for food, is well in excess of 50 percent and continuing to rise. Indeed, even the official figures acknowledge an 86 percent year-over-year increase in the price of meat.

• Agence France-Presse reported at length last month (March 7) on the immensely costly “brain drain” from Sudan, which is accelerating, especially in important professional fields:

“The mounting exodus among medical workers is ‘a real brain drain from Sudan.’ said Al Shaikh Badr, a doctor with the health ministry. The outflow coincides with a worsening economy since South Sudan separated nearly two years ago, taking with it about 75 per cent of united Sudan’s oil production…. Estimates of unemployment range up to 40 per cent.”

• In an effort to stem worker unrest, the regime announced a doubling of the minimum wage at the end of 2012 (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], December 30, 2012); however, this was not reflected in the budget that had been submitted, and can be paid only with the printing of more Sudanese currency, thus further increasing inflation. And with inflation already over 50 percent, that “doubling” of the minimum wage won’t last long before it is entirely overtaken by loss of purchasing power. Various budget machinations can fool the public over the short term, but cannot change basic economic and financial realities pushing toward much higher inflation.

• The loss of foreign exchange currency reserves means that many domestic industries and enterprises are cutting back on production. Again last month, Sudan Tribune reported:

“Sudan’s largest flour company has been forced to cut its production by 50% because of foreign currency shortage, Sudan Tribune has learned.Sayga Flour Mills, which is part of DAL Group, relies on Byblos Bank, Abu Dhabi National Bank and Saudi Sudanese Bank to provide Guarantee Letters for the purposes of importing wheat and other production items.” (March 10, 2013)

There are other consequences of the economic shambles and lack of forex:

Royal Dutch Airline KLM has announced that effective March 31 of this year they will halt flights between Amsterdam and Khartoum, citing unsatisfactory performance of the route. There has been speculation if Khartoum’s harsh economic environment, which saw allocation of foreign exchange to repatriate ticket sales suspended—in spite of existing international agreements which ordinarily exempt airlines from such measures—or if simply the increasing isolation of the regime has led to the decline now seen.” (March 25, 2013)

• The Gezira agricultural project—long a promising part of Sudan’s economy—has been run into the ground by successive regimes, including the present one for almost a quarter of a century. In the remarkably outspoken words of the Gezira state governor:

The governor of Sudan’s Gezira state al-Zubair Bashir Taha slammed a government law adopted in 2005, saying it has done nothing to improve productivity of the country’s largest agricultural scheme that contains one of the world’s biggest irrigation projects.” (Sudan Tribune, March 12, 2013)

• External debt now exceeds US$45 billion—a staggering amount vastly in excess of what Khartoum can service, let alone repay. The regime counts on debt relief, and yet violence, insecurity, humanitarian blockades, and diplomatic obduracy make this impossible for even the most soft-minded countries.

• In a desperate effort to garner foreign exchange currency, the regime has lurched in various directions, including a rashly precipitous effort to boost gold production, with exclusive regime control of sales and exports. One consequence of this rashness is violence in Darfur: Sudan Vision, a regime propaganda organ, announced at the end of 2012 (December 30):

“Minister of Minerals has revealed the existence of 4,000 gold mines in Jebel Amir Area in North Darfur State which produce 15 tons per year at the rate of 70 kg a day. Kamal Abdul Latif told reporters after the meeting of the consultative council of the ministry of minerals that the meeting reviewed the plan for 2013, saying his ministry will continue to develop minerals to boost national economy.”

There has been no independent confirmation of this spectacular claim, or clarification of what exactly constitutes a “mine.” But the Jebel Amir area is in the Beni Hussein Locality of North Darfur, and what has transpired in the past three months has been shocking new violence, this time between two Arab tribal groups, the Beni Hussein and the Northern Rizeigat (which provided a disproportionate number of militia recruits to Khartoum in the early years of the war). More than 100,000 people of various ethnicities have been displaced in the Jebel Amir region, and many hundreds have been killed. Without the ability or inclination to respond seriously to escalating violence throughout Darfur, Khartoum doesn’t really care how the gold of Jebel Amir is mined—so long as it is sold to the regime for export. Additional victims include migrant artisanal workers drawn to Jebel Amir by regime declarations.

The regime has become desperate, and that desperation certainly makes it more difficult to assess the motives behind any course of action. We catch a glimpse of the extremity of response in a recent dispatch from Sudan Tribune. The issue is not unimportant, but the paranoia—along with entomological and meteorological ignorance—tells us too much about the men in Khartoum in the death throes of their tyranny:

“The Sudanese government launched a fierce attack on the Food and Agricultural organization of the United Nations (FAO) accusing it of conspiring against the country.The Secretary General of the General Administration for Protection of Plantation Khidir Gibreel said at a meeting in Sudan’s North State that FAO is plagued with politics.He singled out FAO’s Executive Secretary of the Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region Mamoon Alalawi whom he said is leading the conspiracy. Gibreel said that Sudan will seek to have Alalawi removed from his post over his hostile stance against Sudan. He said that his position is backed by the federal agricultural minister and the president.

“He claimed that Alalawi blocked a $25 million grant from Saudi Arabia in the form of vehicles and other equipments. Furthermore, the FAO official sent a spying device to Sudan that is disguised as one used for locust control.

“The head of the pro-government Sudanese Journalists Union Moyideen Titawi suggested in an op-ed last month that Israel is behind the locusts which attacked the country. ‘I don’t rule out much that the first and last enemy of our country and our people and our products Israel and its agents [a hand] in the launch of this scourge on our country in order to impoverish us and strike our production of food, especially wheat, beans, pulses and dates’ Titawi wrote in the right-wing al-Intibaha newspaper.”

Anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel run deep in this Sudanese regime, and we may expect that as the economy inflicts greater hardship on the citizenry, we will see much more in this vein. But beyond the preposterous claims and accusations, we should feel the desperation to which this dying regime has been driven, and worry about the consequences.




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