AFRICAHORN OF AFRICARUSSIASUDAN

 

“According to an Al-Monitor source from the security service of a Russian energy company operating in Africa, Wagner mercenaries had stopped training the RSF recently and Hemedti himself, among others, had spoken about it. “This is due to the fact that the US and European countries began to recognize Prigozhin’s structure as a criminal organization, but this hardly extended to shadow operations on the border with the Central African Republic,” the source said.” 

Source:Al Monitor

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with Sudan’s paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo also known as Hemedti in Khartoum, Sudan in February 2023. - Russian Foreign Ministry

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with Sudan’s paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo also known as Hemedti in Khartoum, Sudan in February 2023. – Russian Foreign Ministry

Anton Mardasov @anton_mardasov

May 14, 2023

Events in Sudan would have perhaps gone unnoticed in Russian society, including by politicians and the media, if Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had not visited Khartoum two months before fighting broke out last week between Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan’s army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti. 

Lavrov’s was his first visit to the country after a nine-year hiatus, during which he met with both sides in the current confrontation. 


The head of Russian diplomacy reiterated Moscow’s commitment to the agreement on the establishment of a Russian naval facility in Port Sudan. The agreement is awaiting ratification by the Sudanese civilian legislature which has now been blocked. This is despite the fact that at the time, as Al-Monitor’s source in the Russian parliament noted, “Many in Moscow had already given up hope of an official presence in the Red Sea amid a reshaping of trade logistics due to the conflict with the West and Ukraine.” 

This suspicion is in part due that many did not believe not only that the deployment of the facility was possible, or that Moscow would be able to negotiate a deal after the toppling of former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. 

Russian naval port obsolete? 

As for logistics, because of the sanctions, there is a restructuring of supply chains with a focus on trade with Africa and Asia, making the port in Sudan of great importance to Russia in these conditions as a transshipment trading point.

After this visit, rumors began to circulate in the Russian military and diplomatic corps that the Sudanese had reduced their demands as representatives of Burhan stated that the conditions proposed by Russia were not in the economic interests of Sudan.  The “yes” that was given to Lavrov was because the Russian foreign minister had allegedly been able to agree on the possibility of deploying a forward operating facility in Eritrea on his visit in January 2023.

 Whether this was true or just a diplomatic trick by which Lavrov created a favorable atmosphere for negotiations remains to be seen, but it is clear that in Sudan he tried to alleviate the crisis. 

“Before the visit, it was clear that Khartoum was ready to continue playing up the Russian base factor in relations with both Egypt and the West, and the Russian Ministry of Defense could no longer resolve this issue [naval facility] on its own,” a Russian source close to the foreign ministry said.

“The Ministry of Defense could not agree on this issue from the very beginning under [former dictator] Omar al-Bashir despite the baggage of connections — as we know, negotiations on the official military facility were conducted unofficially by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s people, i.e., the Wagner Group,” said another Al-Monitor source close to the Foreign Ministry.  

Although Lavrov’s trip to Khartoum was a positive development, the negotiations didn’t yield any tangible breakthroughs, the source suggested. The ratification of the naval facility agreement is only possible if the power is passed on to the civil government in Sudan. Yet this in itself is the issue at stake in the ongoing conflict between Sudan’s military commanders.

In any case, once the Burhan-Hemedti conflict has shifted into a hot phase, Russia’s plans for a naval facility in Port Sudan can with certain confidence be considered obsolete and will remain unfulfilled for a long while, Al-Monitor’s sources say. Other Russian experts largely concur with that view. 

However, there is a growing conviction among Russian politicians that the failures over the base in Sudan have to do not with the principle of Russia’s choice of a base, but with the machinations of Western intelligence services, primarily American and French. Indirectly, Lavrov said the same thing. “Geopolitical engineering is not good for anything,” he said on the events in Sudan in April. 

The Russian State Duma habitually accuses the United States of destabilizing the situation in Sudan. The media, for example, which is associated with the Russian secret service, at least tried to make sense of it, albeit with far-fetched arguments. For example, they wrote in all seriousness that the military actions in Khartoum were not accidental but deliberate in order to prevent Russia from gaining a foothold in Sudan and Africa as a whole. 

As evidence, Russian media cited the news that on the eve of the hostilities, Sudanese authorities charged a Russian citizen with smuggling 5 kilograms of gold mined by Al-Sawlaj for Mining Ltd., a company affiliated with Wagner PMC. According to these media outlets, the trial was allegedly initiated in the interest of Western states in order to have arguments for further pressure on the mercenary Wagner Group in various countries on the continent. 

The founder of Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, predictably denied all accusations of “stealing from African countries” and stated that there had not been a single Wagner mercenary in Sudan for two years. However, many experts question this assertion, citing as evidence the posts from 2022 on Telegram channels associated with the Wagner Group that showed footage of training of local forces by Russian mercenaries.  

Wagner becomes problematic

According to an Al-Monitor source from the security service of a Russian energy company operating in Africa, Wagner mercenaries had stopped training the RSF recently and Hemedti himself, among others, had spoken about it. “This is due to the fact that the US and European countries began to recognize Prigozhin’s structure as a criminal organization, but this hardly extended to shadow operations on the border with the Central African Republic,” the source said. 

One of Russia’s experts on Africa, Alexei Tselunov, noted that Hemedti directly or indirectly controls 250 state-owned enterprises, including gold-mining companies that regularly fail to pay taxes to the budget. 

It is known that structures associated with Prigozhin’s mercenaries not only did not stop using Sudan to smuggle gold (resources were either flown out of Khartoum or trucked to the Central African Republic) as part of the fight against international sanctions, but also, according to Politico, expanded mining to finance military actions in Ukraine. 

Although Wagner PMC has longstanding ties with Burhan, that is precisely because of the smuggling business that the Wagner Group has recently worked more closely with the RSF, which ensured the safe removal of gold from Sudan by the Russians.  

As for the information about the supply of missiles and heavy weapons by Russian mercenaries to Hemedti’s forces, Al-Monitor’s sources admit the possibility of some arms deliveries but note that their extent may be exaggerated in the media because it would be a rather risky move both for Prigozhin — who publicly offered his mediation in the conflict between Burhan and Hemedti — .

Kirill Semenov, nonresident expert with the Russian International Affairs Council, tells Al-Monitor that there has been little discrepancy between official Moscow and Prigozhin on the Sudanese track so far. He agrees that the information about extensive support for Hemedti by Wagner PMC may be greatly exaggerated, especially since Prigozhin’s people are well aware of the real balance of power. 

“First, Hemedti does not have the necessary power resources to take power in the country. At best, he can only participate in the division of it, and this will not bring Moscow any closer to solving the problem of establishing a naval facility there. Second, Russia’s unilateral support for Hemedti would lead to a further deterioration of relations with Egypt, which is much more important for Moscow in terms of economic cooperation,” Semenov said. 

Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s assistance in delivering goods in the interests of the RSF is often presented as evidence of Russian support for Hemedti. Yet there are other regional players supporting Hifter besides Russia, Semenov notes. “As far as one can judge, Hifter’s support for Hemedti is limited, and one cannot rule out that Hifter will try to distance himself from supporting the RSF and shift all the responsibility for that assistance to the Wagner Group,” the expert concluded.

 

Martin Plaut

May 10

Here are two reports which provide chapter and verse about how the Eritrean government puts pressure on Eritreans in the diaspora to extract funds from them, and attempts to intimidate the Eritrean community. They were prepared for the Norwegian government's Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion.

These are some extracts:

·        "A minority organisation which appears to be characterised by conflict, rivalry and factionalism, or which is funded by forces in the country of origin, may in fact be infiltrated or may have originally been established by a foreign power. Eritrean diaspora organisations in particular are subject to this problem."

·        "3.1.2 Among other things, we describe how the Eritrean authorities threaten families with sanctions if persons... engage in opposition activity or do not pay the so-called two per cent tax."

·        "3.2 ...among other things, from Norwegian-Eritrean informations who told of death threats, often made face-to face in various contexts. Several of these cases have been reported to the police, and several victims have been assigned a violence alarm....we also reports more indirect threats, by being told that 'we know where you are and where you live.' Both Ethiopians and Eritreans have reported such threats."

·        "3.3.2...describes acts where discrediting content is spread in social media, through derogatory comments, including toward the Eritrean diaspora."

·        3.4.1...reported from Eritrean informants that pro-regime circles and individuals engage in power struggles in Eritrean diaspora organisations, and can also 'coup' governing bodies."

·        3.4.1 We were further told that to the extent that organised communities survive, it is reportedly because pro-regime individuals have taken control, and excluded Eritreans who do not support the regime. It is also reportedly common to exclude, ostracise or ban Norwegian-Eritreans who are not pro-regime or fail to pay the two per cent tax for meetings, church services or cultural events."

·        3.5 "For Eritreans, the embassy requires the payment of the Eritrean two per cent tax in order to receive a passport, but also public documents, such as diplomas, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc."

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Martin Plaut

May 5

Source: East African

Sudan's conflict: Outside players backing army, RSF generals

THURSDAY MAY 04 2023   

Sudan's rival generals al-Burhan and Hemedti

Sudan's rival generals, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (left) and the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo 'Hemedti'. PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY & EBRAHIM HAMID | AFP

Summary

·        Diplomats and analysts say Cairo is crucial to applying any short-term pressure on Burhan.

·        Saudi Arabia has had close ties to Burhan and Hemedti.

·        Ethiopia and Kenya hold some sway due to their prominent role in regional diplomacy and mediation in Sudan.

·        Critics say the US was too lenient with the generals.

By REUTERS

More by this Author

Military rivals locked in a conflict that erupted in Sudan on April 15 both courted foreign backing in the years leading up to the fighting.

That support could now influence the course of the power struggle between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo commonly known as Hemedti, as well as efforts to stop the violence.

The conflict has brought open warfare to Sudan's capital Khartoum and sparked new unrest in the western region of Darfur, displacing hundreds of thousands of people within Sudan and sending 100,000 fleeing across its borders.

The influence of outside players has loomed over events in Sudan since the overthrow of former leader Omar al-Bashir during a popular uprising four years ago.

Who supports Burhan?

Burhan's most important backer is Egypt, which shares a border with Sudan that more than 40,000 people have crossed since the fighting began.

In both countries, the military has assumed a dominant role in the decades since independence and has intervened following popular uprisings in Egypt when former army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi led the ousting of democratically elected President Mohamed Mursi a decade ago, and in Sudan when Burhan led a military takeover in 2021.

Diplomats and analysts say Egypt feels comfortable dealing with Burhan and sees him as the most likely guarantor of its interests, including in negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being constructed on the Blue Nile upstream of Sudan and Egypt.

In recent months, as much of the international community backed a transition plan involving the main civilian coalition to emerge from Sudan's 2019 uprising, Cairo created a parallel track of negotiations involving figures closer to the army.

During the current fighting Egypt has joined calls for an effective ceasefire while saying they consider the conflict an internal matter for Sudan. On Tuesday Egypt's foreign ministry received an envoy for Burhan.

Diplomats and analysts say Cairo is crucial to applying any short-term pressure on Burhan.

Read: Sudan: US mounts pressure for ceasefire

Who supports Hemedti?

The most important regional ally for Hemedti before the conflict was the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Hemedti has presented himself as a bulwark against Islamist-leaning factions that established deep roots in the army and other institutions under Bashir. The UAE has aggressively sought to roll back Islamist influence across the region.

The UAE has provided Hemedti, who grew rich through the gold trade, with a platform for channelling his finances as well as public relations support for the RSF, said Andreas Krieg, Associate Professor at King's College, London.

Analysts however say the UAE has also sought to hedge its bets, retaining ties to Burhan and the army and joining the Quad, a grouping that has taken the lead on diplomacy on Sudan and includes the United States, Saudi Arabia and Britain.

"While it publicly supports the policy approach by the Quad, it has used its networks to create an alternative influence hub with Hemedti and the RSF," said Krieg.

Hemedti had also cultivated ties with Russia. Western diplomats in Khartoum said in 2022 that Russia's Wagner Group was involved in illicit gold mining in Sudan and was spreading disinformation. Hemedti said he advised Sudan to cut ties to Wagner after the US imposed sanctions on the private military contractor. Wagner said on April 19 that it was no longer operating in Sudan.

Read: Russia’s Wagner keeps low profile in Sudan

Which other powers have influence?

Saudi Arabia has had close ties to Burhan and Hemedti, both of whom sent troops to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

As it steps up its diplomatic ambitions across the Middle East, Riyadh has asserted itself in mediating over Sudan while also looking to protect its economic ambitions in the Red Sea region, said Anna Jacobs, Senior Gulf Analyst with Crisis Group.

"Saudi Arabia is focused on Red Sea security, which is integral to Saudi Vision 2030 and investments along the Red Sea like Neom," she said, referring to the futuristic city backed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia and the United States have been leading efforts to secure an effective ceasefire.

East African powers Ethiopia and Kenya also hold some sway due to their prominent role in regional diplomacy and previous mediation in Sudan.

Read: Ethiopia praised for helping Sudan evacuees

South Sudan hosted peace talks between the Sudanese state and rebel groups in recent years and was designated as one of the countries that could host talks over the current crisis.

Israel, which had been hoping to move forward in normalising ties with Sudan, has also offered to host talks.

What's the West's position?

Western powers swung behind a transition towards elections as the military shared power with civilians after Bashir's overthrow, offering direct financial support that was frozen when Burhan and Hemedti staged a coup in 2021.

Led by the United States, they supported a new transition deal that was meant to be finalised in early April. However, the deal instead helped trigger the eruption of fighting by creating a stand-off over the future structure of the military.

Critics say the US was too lenient with the generals.

"Their strategy was stability, and their basic misconception was that they would get stability by backing the apparently strong and decisive and cohesive players who happened to be in power," said Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert and head of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University.

 

Martin Plaut

May 4

"Another potential meddler is Issaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s president, who has sought ties with Mr Dagalo and has a history of backing Sudanese rebels. Another is Khalifa al-Haftar, a Libyan warlord with links to the Wagner Group, who is said to have already sent fuel and arms to the RSF."

Source: Economist

The Horn of Africa sits astride key trade routes 

 

May 3rd 2023 | KHARTOUM AND NAIROBI

Four days after war began in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, armed men stormed the home of Muhammad. Ordering the businessman (whose name we withheld for his safety) and his family to leave, the soldiers mounted anti-aircraft guns on the roof of the apartment. Muhammad’s family moved in with relatives in a quieter neighbourhood nearby. But that, too, was soon unsafe as the fighting spread, leaving the streets strewn with bodies.

The battle may have started as a narrow power struggle between the official army, known as the Sudanese Armed Forces (saf), and the Rapid Support Forces (rsf), a militia-turned-paramilitary organisation. But the longer it continues, the greater the risk that it may draw in outsiders because of Sudan’s geopolitical importance.

 

For Sudan sits astride the Nile, Egypt’s lifeline. It also has ports close to the Horn of Africa, which controls the southern chokepoint of the Red Sea and is close to the Persian Gulf. These arteries of the world economy are watched over by America, China and France, which all have military bases in Djibouti. “The Horn is highly strategic, and a microcosm of other international disputes,” says Comfort Ero, the president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank. It is a place where “the West meets the East, where the Gulf meets Europe.”

For now the two sides seem evenly matched. The saf is commanded by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who seized and then consolidated power as de facto leader of Sudan in coups in 2019 and 2021. It started the conflict with considerable conventional military power, including tanks and fighter jets. Though the rsf is ostensibly the underdog, its commander, Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo (better known as Hemedti), has substantial private wealth, because the rsf is said to control elements of Sudan’s gold trade. He also leads tens of thousands of loyal troops.

It was these assets which enabled Mr Dagalo to vie with General Burhan for control of the transition that followed the overthrow of the brutal Islamist regime under the former dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019, and later saw him become the country’s vice-president. Guns and money may also have helped him to emerge in recent years as a semi-autonomous figure on the international stage, cutting deals with foreign powers. The rsf is not simply an “insurgent militia”, notes Sharath Srinivasan, a Sudan expert at Cambridge University. “It’s a state actor.”

After nearly three weeks of fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere, in particular in West Darfur, neither side has a decisive advantage. The rsf lacks tanks and air power but is compensating by digging into residential neighbourhoods in the capital. There its men are raping women and forcing them to cook for them, according to a Sudanese woman, whose four female cousins escaped through an air-vent after the rsf had occupied their home.

Civilians in Khartoum also have to contend with air strikes by the saf. On May 1st three women selling tea opposite a hospital were killed by a bomb blast. According to the un, more than 500 civilians have already been killed and many more injured in the fighting (the true figure is likely to be much higher). As many as 800,000 refugees are expected to cross Sudan’s borders in the coming weeks and months.

The rsf, whose troops are also better paid and have more recent combat experience that those of the saf, has managed to secure key parts of the capital including the international airport and the country’s largest oil refinery. It also appears to control the presidential palace and the state broadcaster. “For the past two weeks they were roaming around like they owned the place,” says Waleed Adem, a resident of a rsf-controlled district of east Khartoum.

The rsf also dominates Mr Dagalo’s home region of Darfur and controls two of the region’s three air bases. Bloody clashes in el-Geneina, which began when Arab tribal militias affiliated to the rsf attacked non-Arabs in the town, may have subsided.

The army remains in charge pretty much everywhere else. Thousands of Sudanese and foreign citizens have been evacuated from the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, in the country’s troubled east, which was secured by the saf early in the war. The countryside around Khartoum is also more or less peaceful. “It’s business as usual,” reports a university professor who recently fled the city with his family.

Though the rsf is waging a guerrilla campaign of raids on army units and facilities in the capital, the saf’s control of the skies is taking a toll. “We hit all their supply stores around Khartoum,” says a mid-ranking soldier in the saf. Several convoys of rsf reinforcements from Darfur have reportedly been destroyed by air strikes.

The question is whether either side can quickly break the deadlock. The saf has decades of experience fighting insurgencies in distant regions, but never before in the capital. It cannot simply bomb its way to victory there as it has done elsewhere. “Khartoum is going to be a bit of a meat-grinder for a while,” predicts a Western security analyst. He adds that internal divisions within the saf’s leadership may be hampering its ability to press home its sizeable advantage in heavy weapons.

The rsf, too, finds itself in a quandary. It will struggle to supply and rearm its forces as the fighting continues. Even in the unlikely event of a victory, Mr Dagalo is loathed in Khartoum by residents who hold him responsible for a massacre of hundreds of protesters there in 2019 perpetrated by a combination of forces from the rsf, the police and the intelligence service. His troops’ current conduct has only alienated them more. “The people have the army’s back,” says Mr Adem.

The prospects for a protracted war depend on how Sudan’s neighbouring countries react. Due to its size as well as its strategic location on the Red Sea, Sudan has long been seen as strategically valuable within the region as well as by China, Russia and the West. It overlooks the shipping lanes leading to the Bab al-Mandab strait, through which around 10% of the world’s sea trade passes.

The Gulf countries, in particular the United Arab Emirates (uae) and Saudi Arabia, eye economic interests at play. In December an Emirati firm inked a $6bn deal to develop a port and economic zone on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. The Saudis and the Emiratis supported General Burhan and Mr Dagalo after the joint coup, handing out some $3bn in emergency aid. But neither country has an obvious interest in fuelling the conflict. Saudi Arabia has already evacuated thousands of Sudanese fleeing via Port Sudan. Much as Europe does, it fears a sudden influx of refugees.

Complicating matters, though, is the Emiratis’ murky relationship with Mr Dagalo, who received cash and arms in return for sending his rsf to aid their war in Yemen in 2017. He has since cultivated ties in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the uae’s two main statelets. Still the Emiratis do not have “any particular affection for Hemedti”, says Harry Verhoeven of Columbia University. Since the war began there has been little evidence that the uae has continued to supply his forces.

So the Gulf countries may be “hanging back and hedging their bets to see which way the cards fall”, suggests Ms Ero. That may also be the approach of Russia, whose murky mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, is said to be involved in gold mining in Sudan while helping arm the rsf. The Kremlin’s main aim is to “thwart a democratic transition in Sudan”, says Samuel Ramani, author of “Russia in Africa”. This is because its ambition to build a naval base on the Red Sea is better served by a military government in Khartoum than a civilian, democratic one. And it does not care whether the saf or the rsf prevails.

The civil war in Sudan is not yet a proxy one like those in Syria, Libya or Yemen. But the country shares long and porous borders with conflict-racked neighbours, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya and South Sudan. Each has its own bewildering array of militias and rebel groups, many with ethnic or business ties to the rsf or to its rivals. Some may watch for a chance to profit from Sudan’s chaos. “The longer the conflict continues, the more external actors will meddle,” warns Suliman Baldo, who heads the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker, a conflict-monitoring group.

Another potential meddler is Issaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s president, who has sought ties with Mr Dagalo and has a history of backing Sudanese rebels. Another is Khalifa al-Haftar, a Libyan warlord with links to the Wagner Group, who is said to have already sent fuel and arms to the rsf.

Mr Dagalo’s rsf and Mr Haftar’s Libyan National Army (lna), which controls much of eastern Libya, have worked together in the past. In 2019 rsf troops were sent to support the lna, which was also backed by the uae, in its assault on Tripoli, Libya’s capital. Two days before Sudan’s civil war erupted, Mr Haftar’s eldest son arrived in Khartoum for talks with Mr Dagalo.

Whatever support Mr Haftar may offer, the rsf may be limited by the Libyan warlord’s need to keep in with Egypt, another of his foreign sponsors. Long Sudan’s most influential neighbour, Egypt is a staunch backer of the saf under General Burhan. It views Sudan as vital to its national security and is loth to see either a civilian government or Mr Dagalo in charge.

Early in the war an Egyptian jet was reported to have struck an rsf ammunition dump. On May 1st Mr Dagalo accused Egypt’s air force of hitting targets in Khartoum North. Though the extent of its military involvement is unknown, Egypt is likely to step up its support for the saf if it is flagging. “Egypt is the most serious factor,” says Magdi el-Gizouli of the Rift Valley Institute. “The Egyptian goal now is to save central power in Sudan as they know it.”

A wider conflagration may still be avoided. Despite ethnic clashes in Darfur, the conflict has so far been generally limited to fighting between the two armed factions. On May 2nd both sides agreed to a seven-day ceasefire brokered by South Sudan’s president. Peace talks in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, could soon begin.

All the while, a humanitarian disaster is mounting. Food and water supplies in Khartoum are dwindling. Almost no hospital in the capital is functioning. Pregnant women have died on route to give birth. “If there is no ceasefire, everything will collapse,” warns Mohamed Lemine, who heads the un’s sexual and reproductive health agency in Sudan.

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Martin Plaut

 

Martin Plaut

Apr 20

"Khalifa Haftar, the commander of a faction that controls eastern Libya, dispatched at least one plane to fly military supplies to Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces"

Source: Wall Street Journal

Involvement of regional forces raises risk that fighting between warring Sudanese generals could widen and set back cease-fire efforts

Army soldiers loyal to Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto leader, in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

By

Benoit Faucon 

Summer Said and 

Jared Malsin

April 19, 2023 1:03 pm ET

A powerful Libyan militia leader and the Egyptian military have sent military support to rival generals battling for control of neighboring Sudan, people familiar with the matter say, an illustration of how the fighting threatens to draw in regional powers.

Khalifa Haftar, the commander of a faction that controls eastern Libya, dispatched at least one plane to fly military supplies to Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, these people said. Meanwhile, Egypt sent warplanes and pilots to back the Sudanese military, they added.

The involvement of outside forces raises the risk of a dangerous escalation in the fighting that could widen the conflict and undermine efforts by the U.S., the United Nations and others to mediate a cease-fire.

Sudan’s strategic position on the Red Sea, its access to the Nile River and vast gold reserves have long been coveted by outside powers. Since toppling Sudan’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in 2019, the two warring generals have used these assets to build alliances with regional and global powers that have an interest in the outcome of their battle for military and political supremacy.

On Wednesday, the Sudanese military led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto leader, continued to strike the positions of the Rapid Support Forces, a state-sponsored militia led by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. The airstrikes, along with intense street battles between the two rival factions, have thrown Sudan’s capital Khartoum, a metropolis on the Nile River, into chaos.

Khalifa Haftar, the commander of a faction that controls eastern Libya, has previous ties with the Sudanese militia led by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.PHOTO: ALI HAIDER/SHUTTERSTOCK

The World Health Organization says at least 296 people have been killed and more than 3,000 injured since fighting began on Saturday. Millions remain trapped in their homes with diminishing supplies of water and food, and hospitals are unable to treat the wounded.

As international pressure grew in recent months for Gens. Burhan and Dagalo to hand power to a civilian government, the two generals jostled over the integration of the RSF into the regular military and the ownership of swaths of Sudan’s economy controlled by the two factions. They are now locked in a lethal struggle for political and military supremacy over the country of more than 45 million people.

Mr. Haftar, who is backed by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, sent at least one shipment of ammunition on Monday from Libya to Sudan to replenish supplies for Gen. Dagalo, the people familiar with the matter said. The Sudanese army said Monday that Gen. Dagalo was mobilizing a large force at a northern air base “to secure the landing of a military aid plane from regional sides.”

Gen. Dagalo and Mr. Haftar have come to each other’s aid before. The Sudanese commander sent fighters to assist the Libyan militia leader as Mr. Haftar launched a failed attempt to seize Libya’s capital Tripoli from the internationally-recognized government in 2019.

Both men have allied with the U.A.E., which assisted Mr. Haftar militarily to fight political rivals and hired Gen. Dagalo’s men to fight in Yemen. The two have also worked with the Kremlin-backed private military contractor Wagner. Mr. Haftar hosts the paramilitaries at his bases in Libya, and Gen. Dagalo has struck lucrative gold mining partnerships with the group, which is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close associate of President Vladimir Putin.

There was no immediate indication that Mr. Haftar’s involvement in Sudan was backed by Russia or the U.A.E.

This satellite photo shows fires burning at Khartoum International Airport in Sudan’s capital on Wednesday.PHOTO: PLANET LABS PBC/PLANET LABS PBC/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Spokespeople for Gen. Burhan, Mr. Haftar and the Egyptian and Emirati foreign ministries didn’t return requests for comment. A public-relations official for Gen. Dagalo couldn’t immediately comment.

Egypt, which has officially called for an end to the fighting, sent jet fighters just before the fighting started and additional pilots soon after to support Gen. Burhan, the people said. A Sudanese army official said one Egyptian jet fighter destroyed an ammunition depot controlled by Gen. Dagalo on Monday afternoon.

“If you are a neighbor looking at the violence and you have the risk of a warlord taking over, it makes sense from an Egyptian perspective to get involved,” said Cameron Hudson, a former chief of staff to the U.S. special envoy for Sudan who is now a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Over the weekend, Gen. Dagalo’s men detained Egyptian troops that had been deployed at a Sudanese base, suspecting they could intervene to back Gen. Burhan. They later transferred them to Khartoum, where the Sudanese air force has been striking RSF positions, these people said. They noted that the detained Egyptian soldiers included military intelligence officers. Egyptian planes already in the facility that had been heavily damaged were also seized.

Cairo has long backed Gen. Burhan, a key ally for Egypt in its dispute with Ethiopia, which is expanding a giant dam that the Sisi government says threatens to choke off the waters that run into the Nile.

The coup led by Gen. Burhan, which halted Sudan’s democratic transition in October 2021, was greenlighted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, The Wall Street Journal has previously reported.

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Eritreans who are sent back to their country are threatened with ill-treatment. This is the third time in one year that Switzerland has been reprimanded for this by the UN. Now the parliament is reacting. 

Source: “Der Bund“, 13.06.2022

Author: Nina Fargahi 

Asylum seekers from Eritrea are often trapped in emergency centres: they cannot return, but are not allowed to stay either 

The situation is complicated. Eritrean nationals who are not granted asylum in Switzerland cannot be deported to their country. The necessary agreement is missing. At the same time, Eritrean refugees can neither work nor complete an education here. In 2020, 653 Eritrean nationals thus lived in emergency centres. 

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) hopes that they are going to leave voluntarily. But according to a new report by the UN Special Rapporteur, deserters are “at risk of torture and inhuman treatment as well as extrajudicial killings” if they return. The UN Special Rapporteur is currently in Switzerland. He presented his new report yesterday at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

In addition, Switzerland has been reprimanded once more by the UN Commitee against Torture (CAT) at the end of May. In fact, it was the third time in one year. The reason: Switzerland wanted to deport a woman to Eritrea who, as a deserter, ran the risk of being tortured if she returned to her home country. 

Tarig Hassan, a Zurich-based lawyer who brought this case before the CAT, says: “The multiple reprimands show that Switzerland is misjudging the situation in Eritrea. It must change its practice and recognise asylum seekers from Eritrea as refugees.” The SEM contradicts this view writing that the asylum and expulsion practice will only be adjusted if there are new findings on the threat situation or if the Federal Administrative Court corrects a decision of the SEM in a general way. 

No individual cases, but a practice 

New findings? Sarah Frehner, a lawyer who has been working on Eritrea for many years, says: “It is contradictory: Switzerland has decided to tighten its practice without new and reliable findings that would allow the conclusion that the situation in Eritrea has changed, and is now waiting for new findings to possibly defuse the practice again.” 

The Federal Administrative Court admits in its reference judgements that obtaining information on the situation in Eritrea is problematic. “Nevertheless, the impossible is demanded of the persons concerned, namely to prove that a risk of a human rights violation in each individual case does really exist”, the lawyer explains. If the UN Anti-Torture Committee finds that the prohibition of torture has been violated three times in series, then it is not a case-by-case decision, but rather a fundamental questioning of the Swiss practice, says Frehner. 

“A humanitarian solution is needed”: National Councillor Aline Trede, member of the Green party. 

Swiss Parliament is also dealing with Eritrea these days. Three interpellations are pending. One of the interpellations has been submitted by National Councillor of the Green Party, Aline Trede. Her Eritrean trainee with two daughters had received a negative asylum decision. The parliamentarian states: “A humanitarian solution is needed.” The Eritreans in Switzerland are mainly refugees who entered under the old asylum law and have been here for years. “There are hardly any new asylum applications from Eritrea these days as the persecuted are trying to reach Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands.” 

In 2021, only 386 Eritrean nationals applied for asylum in Switzerland, while 1642 people were included in the asylum status due to births or family reunifications. 

Back in 2019, the Former State Secretary Mario Gattiker stated that of the approximately 2825 Eritrean asylum applications, only 492 concerned people who had initially fled to Switzerland. All the others were births and family reunifications. This means that they are not newly arrived Eritreans. 

Many women with children in emergency aid 

Jürg Schneider, an emeritus professor of economics who is involved in various organisations for asylum seekers, says: “The Swiss policy of deterring Eritreans has been extremely effective, but Switzerland has not only deterred those they had targeted, but also many who should be entitled to protection from persecution, torture and slavery in the Eritrean national service.” 

The proportion of rejected asylum seekers who end up in emergency assistance and receive emergency assistance for more than a year increases with each passing year. After the first quarter of 2018, 58 per cent of emergency assistance cases were long-term cases, but by the end of 2020, the figure has risen to 74 per cent, according to the 2020 emergency assistance monitoring report. Almost half of the people in emergency assistance are women, children and adolescents. Why? Firstly, living as clandestines is more difficult for women with children than for men. Secondly, those who receive emergency aid on a long-term basis have no other way out. 

She wants Eritreans with a temporary admission to be enabled to work more easily: National Councillor Yvonne Feri (Social democratic Party, SP). 

A motion by National Councillor Andrea Geissbühler of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) demands that Switzerland should start to renegotiate with Eritrea to make forced repatriations possible. Geissbühler says: “Eritrea’s president must grant that asylum seekers rejected by Switzerland will not be tortured if they return.” To obtain such a guarantee, however, the Federal Councillors would have to travel there in person, she adds. 

At the same time, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights does not consider such diplomatic assurances to be an efficient protection against torture and says: “If a government disregards the prohibition of torture, it cannot be assumed that it will abstain from it after having made such an agreement. 

The third proposal comes from SP National Councillor Yvonne Feri. She was in Eritrea in 2016 and says that the Eritrean citizens who are already here must be regularised so that they can integrate and work. “We have a shortage of skilled workers in Switzerland, and at the same time Eritrean refugees lack work permits.” 

What will the federal government do? Eritrea is not in the focus of Swiss politics because of the few new asylum applications. The reprimands of the Anti-Torture Commission, the parliamentary initiatives and the new report of the UN Special Rapporteur could now change this. 

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Martin Plaut posted: " A week ago President Isaias welcomed Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, generally referred to as Hemeti, to Asmara. Today Hemeti is Deputy Chairman of Sudan's Transitional Sovereignty Council and on the face of it this was just a meeting between two neighbouring " Martin Plaut

 

Martin Plaut

Mar 20

A week ago President Isaias welcomed Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, generally referred to as Hemeti, to Asmara.

Today Hemeti is Deputy Chairman of Sudan's Transitional Sovereignty Council and on the face of it this was just a meeting between two neighbouring leaders. But a great deal is at stake - including the potential use of Eritrean refugees living in Sudan by Hemeti.

It is important to understand just who Hemeti is and what he stands for. He was the leader of the notorious Janjaweed - the Arab militia who terrorised African tribes in Darfur. It was for the part he played in a series of massacred that he has been accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

As Eric Reeves, who covers Sudan for years, put it:

It is likely that over the past decade, Hemeti has accumulated more Sudanese blood on his hands in conflict in Darfur and South Kordofan—as well as in Khartoum and elsewhere—than any other man in the country. 

This is the man whom President Isaias warmly embraced.

Hemeti is currently in a fierce struggle with other Sudanese leaders. As Reuters reported on Sunday:

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo commands tens of thousands of fighters in the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and has amassed considerable mineral wealth. He is also deputy leader of Sudan's ruling council, which took power in a coup more than a year ago.

Recently however, Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, has pulled away from military colleagues and found common ground with a civilian political alliance, in moves that could establish him as a major figure even after the democratic transition.

Central to Hemedti's disagreement with the military is his reluctance to set a clear deadline to integrate the RSF into the army, two military sources said, referring to a stipulation within the outline deal signed in December that paves the way for a two year civilian-led transition to elections.

The sources said the standoff led Hemedti to bring additional RSF forces in recent weeks to bases in Khartoum from Darfur, the western region where the group emerged from the so-called Janjaweed militias accused of atrocities during the early 2000s.

Concerned about his intentions, the army under ruling council leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan stationed more soldiers in the capital on a state of alert, the sources said.

Speaking to RSF troops earlier this month, Hemedti said his forces would never fight the army, but "our problem is with these people who are clinging to power" - an apparent reference to Islamist-leaning elements of the former regime that retain influence in the army and civil service.

The reasons for the troop movements have not been previously reported. Spokespeople for the military and RSF did not respond to requests for comment.

While tensions have since cooled, Hemedti's underlying differences with the army have not been resolved, and the risk remains of a confrontation that could tip Sudan, which sits in a volatile region between the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, into deepening instability.

Hemedti and other military men are unlikely to be able to stand for election in the short term. But in a country where power has long been held by the Khartoum elite, Hemedti, from a nomadic camel-herding background, is trying to become "a force to be reckoned with in the national power structure," said Suliman Baldo, head of the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker, an independent think-tank.

In a BBC interview last year, Hemedti said he would not stand by and watch the country fall apart, but denied having leadership ambitions. His office did not respond to questions submitted by Reuters.

A handover of power to civilians under the outline deal could restore billions in Western aid and restart an economic and democratic opening that was halted when, in October 2021, army and RSF officers deposed the fledgling civilian government that had followed the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir.

The main signatories to the outline agreement are Burhan's military and Hemedti's RSF on one side and the civilian Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition on the other. The two sides had shared power in the aborted transition between Bashir's overthrow and the coup.

Hemedti has increasingly aligned himself with the pro-democracy civilian movement in speeches. On the other hand, Burhan has delayed a final signing of the transition agreement by pushing to broaden it and bring in former rebel groups and pro-military civilian factions.

On March 11, the army said accusations it was reluctant to hand over power were "open attempts to gain political sympathy, and obstruct the process of transition". Later that day, Hemedti and Burhan met, according to a statement by the ruling council.

Under pressure from Western and Gulf powers, the process of finalising a framework for forming a new transitional government before elections has since shown renewed signs of momentum.

The sides are due to meet this month to thrash out details of military restructuring, but there has so far been no indication of when the RSF will be merged with the army, and what role Hemedti would play in the enlarged armed forces.

The army wants to see the RSF, which by some estimates has up to 100,000 fighters spread across one of Africa's largest countries, integrated under their control by the end of the new transitional period, the two military sources said.

The Isaias-Hemeti relationship

The two men have a good deal in common.

·        Both have established strong relations with the Russians. Isaias recently welcomed Russia's powerful Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, to Eritrea earlier this year.

·        According to the New York Times, Hemeti has linked up with another force: the Russian Wagner Group, run by a close ally of President Putin. The paper describes Hemeti has the Wagner Group’s “main military ally in Sudan.”

·        The report continues: “Two senior Western officials said that Wagner organized General Hamdan’s February visit to Moscow, where he arrived on the eve of the war in Ukraine. Although the trip was ostensibly to discuss an economic aid package, they said, General Hamdan arrived with gold bullion on his plane, and asked Russian officials for help in acquiring armed drones.”

What might the Isaias - Hemeti alliance lead to?

According to the UN Refugee Agency there are some 128,000 Eritrean refugees living in camps in Eastern Sudan, between Kassala and Gadaref. Others live in Khartoum and towns and villages across Sudan.

They are frequently targeted by the authorities, mostly to extract money from them. But now they could face a far greater threat.

President Isaias long resented the presence of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, some 100,000 of whom were housed in camps run by the United Nations. When the Tigray war erupted Eritrean forces attacked the camps.

Early in the conflict, Eritrean troops entered Ethiopia and destroyed Ethiopia’s northern Eritrean refugee camps of Hitsats and Shimelba. Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees were forced to flee further into the Tigrayan warzone.THE CONVERSATIONNOWHERE TO RUN: THE PLIGHT OF ERITREAN REFUGEES IN ETHIOPIA

Some Eritreans were forced to join the Eritrean army, others kidnapped and returned to Eritrea, from which they had fled.

Might Isaias now be planning to link up with Hemeti to deal with the Eritreans living in Sudan? It has long been speculated that the relationship between the two men might threaten the refugees.

It is even possible that Eritrean youngsters, many of whom have had military training, might be enlisted by Hemeti who could use them for his own ends. 

This could mean using Eritreans to fight on the streets of Sudan. Or it could result in Eritreans being taken into Chad or even Libya. As Al Jazeera pointed out:

A report by the UNSC Libya sanctions committee in November accused Sudan and the head of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemeti, of violating UN sanctions by deploying 1,000 troops to Libya.

The BBC once described Hemeti as "the warlord who may control Sudan’s future." It would be a tragedy if he became the warlord who controlled the destiny of Eritrean refugees as well.

 

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