Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers

The violence in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, began on Jan. 16 in the form of a fistfight. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers

  • Fresh bloodletting in strife-torn and impoverished region poses major challenge for Khartoum government
  • Experts think end of UNAMID’s peacekeeping mission may have contributed indirectly to outbreak of violence

DUBAI: Just when the international community thought it had one less conflict to contend with, concerns were reignited earlier this month as news broke of tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region. By the time the dust had settled, at least 250 lives had been lost, hundreds of people had suffered injuries and more than 100,000 Sudanese had been displaced in two different states.

Perhaps inevitably, fingers are being pointed at Sudan’s joint-military-civilian government, which last month took responsibility for security in Darfur from the UN and the African Union, whose hybrid UNAMID mission peacekeepers had kept violence somewhat under check in the area for the last 13 years.

Experts think the announcement following a UN Security Council resolution on Dec. 22, 2020, that the UNAMID was ending its mission, indirectly contributed to the latest outbreak of violence. On Dec. 31, the force formally ended its operations and announced plans for a phased withdrawal of its approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six months.




The war had erupted when Darfur’s ethnic minority rebels rose up against dictator Omar Bashir’s Islamist government. (AFP/File)

The violence in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, began on Jan. 16 in the form of a fistfight. Members of the powerful Arab Rizeigat tribe and the non-Arab Massalit tribe got embroiled in the clashes, which claimed the lives of scores of people, including children and members of the security forces, according to the Sudanese doctors’ union.

A flare-up two days later in South Darfur between the Rizeigat and the non-Arab Falata tribe over the killing of a shepherd caused dozens more deaths and another wave of displacement. The Falata are a cattle- and camel-herding people who trace their roots to the Fulani of western Africa.

FASTFACTS

• UNAMID officially ended operations in Darfur on Dec. 31, 2020.

• Sudan government took over responsibility for protection of civilians in the area.

• UNAMID announced phased withdrawal of 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six month.

According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency,  those fleeing the violence into eastern Chad’s Ouaddai province have been forced to seek shelter in remote places that lack basic services or public infrastructure.

In retrospect, warnings by civil society groups, local leaders and experts about the consequences of the UNAMID decision have proved right. Fearing renewed violence, Darfur residents too held protests in late December against the peacekeepers’ departure.

To them, it was not just the lack of experience of the Hamdok government that was a cause for concern. The calm that had prevailed since the arrival of UNAMID was hardly an indicator of the situation on the ground.

While the main conflict has subsided over the years, ethnic and tribal violence still erupts up periodically, mostly involving semi-nomadic Arab pastoralists and settled farmers.




Tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region have killed at least 250 people. (AFP/File)

“The fighting wasn’t quiet as sudden as people thought; there had been some clashes in December for example,” Jonas Horner, senior analyst on Sudan at the International Crisis Group, told Arab News.

“Violence has been actually bubbling up in Darfur quiet consistently for some months, and this really undercuts the premise that security has improved (sufficiently) for UNAMID to leave. I think the auspiciousness of the moment for this violence really has much more to do with the end of the (UNAMID) mandate in Darfur. This matters of course because (the violence erupted) just two weeks after the mission wrapped up, taking into account the drawdown period.”

To be fair, the UN decision to withdraw the peacekeepers from Darfur was taken on the basis of the promises made by the Khartoum authorities. “I think that is also a thing to notice of course: The government didn’t pass its first test at providing security,” Horner said. “This was the period when they were supposed to take over from UNAMID the key responsibility for safety and security of Darfurians.”

The Sudan government’s confidence in its ability to take charge of Darfur’s security may have stemmed from a peace agreement that was signed in October in the capital of South Sudan, Juba, by most of the warring groups, which obliges them to lay down their weapons.




UN decision to withdraw the peacekeepers from Darfur was taken on the basis of the promises made by the Khartoum authorities. (AFP/File)

Two groups have refused to join the peace deal, including the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, which is believed to have considerable support in Darfur.

Although the clashes in West Darfur and South Darfur appear not to involve any of the peace deal’s signatories, a combination of poverty, ethnic strife and violence has left the region awash in weapons and its people divided by rivalries over land and water.

Amani Al-Taweel, a researcher and expert on Sudanese affairs at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Strategic and Political Studies Center, says the Khartoum authorities failed to deploy security forces in a timely manner to Darfur, despite the region’s history of skirmishes between tribes and ethnic groups with a potential for triggering off wider conflicts.




Amani Al-Taweel says Khartoum authorities failed to deploy security forces in a timely manner to Darfur. (Supplied)

“Darfur’s long-simmering tensions have been compounded by the entry of new groups from West Africa, the lack of a comprehensive resolution, and the absence of the one of the most important militias from the list of the Juba agreement signatories,” Al-Taweel told Arab News. “The combination of all these factors makes the situation in Darfur highly combustible.”

Darfur became synonymous with ethnic cleansing and genocide since conflict erupted in 2003 and left roughly 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the UN. The recent fighting in El-Geneina was centered around a camp for people who had been displaced by said conflict.

The war had erupted when Darfur’s ethnic minority rebels rose up against dictator Omar Bashir’s Islamist government, which responded by recruiting and arming a notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed.

Since the overthrow of Bashir in April 2019 following large-scale protests against his rule, Sudan has been undergoing a fragile transition. Justice for the people of Darfur was a key rallying cry for civilian groups who backed the removal of Bashir after nearly three decades in power.

The Transitional Military Council that replaced him transferred executive power in Sept. 2019 to a mixed civilian–military Sovereignty Council and a civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok.

Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged genocide and war crimes, is currently in custody and on trial in Khartoum. But as the latest outbreak of violence in Darfur shows, the wounds of war will take time to heal.

“On paper, the Juba peace agreement is the main avenue for exit for this kind of violence,” Horner told Arab News, adding that there can be no military solution to a conflict whose roots lie in disputes over sharing of land, water and resources.

“The (Sudanese) government has dispatched a high-level delegation to El-Geneina and its surrounding areas, and that will primarily include the military. This is again a military solution that I don’t think this is a sustainable response to the problem.




Jonas Horner

“There is a need for utilization of local administration leaders, who will be very keen to put the violence back in the box. Admittedly, some recognized militia groups are involved in the latest fighting and they are much less likely to take orders from the local administrations leaders.”

Given the current abundance of goodwill toward Sudan, could foreign countries play a role in defusing the situation in Darfur? “From a security perspective, it is probably too late for the international community to come in,” said Horner.

“The Security Council has wrapped up the UNAMID mandate,” said Horner, adding that the new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) covers the entire country, not just Darfur.

“UNITAMS is under Chapter 6 mission at the UN level, which means it does not include an armed presence. There are some troops left from UNAMID who are supervising and protecting during the drawdown period, but I don’t anticipate they would be utilized to support in a peace keeping or peace-making venture in El-Geneina or South Darfur.”

Overall, the Hamdok government has won praise for taking bold steps to clear the way for Sudan’s political and economic recovery. The recent removal by the US of Sudan from its State Sponsors of Terrorism List will allow the country to have access to international funds and investment, including the International Monetary Fund.

However, festering problems and disputes of the kind that led to the fresh bloodbath in Darfur have the potential to undo many of the gains made since the ouster of Bashir.

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Israel’s Lapid urges world to keep up pressure on Iran

Updated 11 sec ago

Israel’s Lapid urges world to keep up pressure on Iran

LONDON: Israel urged world leaders to keep up pressure on Iran and not lift sanctions as part of nuclear negotiations that were set to resume in Vienna on Monday, saying that tighter supervision of Tehran was needed.
Negotiators were to convene in a last-ditch effort to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned three years later by the United States under then-President Donald Trump, who then reimposed sweeping US sanctions on Iran. That led to breaches of the deal by Tehran, and dismayed the other powers involved.
Israel has warned that Iran, its arch-enemy, will try to secure a windfall in sanctions relief at the talks, without sufficiently rolling back nuclear bomb-making potential through its accelerating enrichment of uranium.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, speaking in London alongside his British counterpart Liz Truss, said Iran was only attending the talks because they wanted access to money.
“This is what they have done in the past. And this is what they will do this time as well. The intelligence is clear, it leaves no doubt,” he told reporters after signing a Memorandum of Understanding on trade, technology and defense with Britain.
“A nuclear Iran will thrust the entire Middle East into a nuclear arms race; we will find ourselves in a new Cold War. But this time the bomb will be in the hands of religious fanatics who are engaged in terrorism as a way of life,” Lapid said.
“The world must prevent this and it can prevent this: tighter sanctions, tighter supervision, conduct any talks from a position of strength.”
In Jerusalem earlier on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cautioned world powers to beware of what he described as Iranian “nuclear blackmail.”
Iran says it is enriching uranium solely for civil uses.
Truss said Britain was “absolutely determined” to prevent Iran from securing a nuclear weapon.
“As far as I am concerned, these talks are the last opportunity for the Iranians to come to the table and agree the JCPOA...,” she said, referring to the 2015 deal. “We will look at all options if that doesn’t happen.”

Iran ‘determined’ to salvage nuclear deal

Updated 29 November 2021

Iran ‘determined’ to salvage nuclear deal

  • The landmark 2015 agreement offered a lifting of some of the array of economic sanctions Iran had been under, in return for strict curbs on its nuclear program
  • Iran has in recent months restricted the activities of inspectors from UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

TEHRAN: Iran is 'determined' to reach an agreement with major powers on salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal at talks that resume Monday in Vienna, its foreign ministry spokesman said.
“The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in Vienna with a firm determination to reach an agreement and is looking forward to fruitful talks,” Said Khatibzadeh told reporters.
“The government has shown its willingness and seriousness by sending a quality team known to all. If the other side shows the same willingness, we will be on the right track to reach an agreement.”
The landmark 2015 agreement offered a lifting of some of the array of economic sanctions Iran had been under, in return for strict curbs on its nuclear program.
But the deal began falling apart in 2018 when then US president Donald Trump pulled out and began reinstating sanctions.
The following year, Iran retaliated by starting to exceed the limits on its nuclear activity laid down in the deal.
Since the last Vienna talks were paused in June, the ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi has taken over, and his new government for several months ignored appeals to restart the talks.
According to local media, the Iranian delegation now in Vienna, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, has been greatly expanded for the new round of negotiations.
“If the United States comes to Vienna with the determination to break the deadlock and overcome the problems on which we did not agree in previous rounds, the path of dialogue will certainly be easier,” said Khatibzadeh.
Khatibzadeh signalled Iran’s distrust of longtime foe the United States.
“We are looking for practical verification of the implementation of American commitments under the nuclear agreement,” he said, adding that was one of their “main focuses in continuing the talks.”
Talks are to resume between Iran and the other parties Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, while the United States is set to participate indirectly.
“With serious will, real determination and good faith, we hope to be able to take steps to reach an agreement as soon as possible to lift the sanctions, provided that the other parties come to Vienna with a change of approach,” said Khatibzadeh.
“If that happens, the results can be announced quickly.”
Iran has in recent months restricted the activities of inspectors from UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Its head Rafael Grossi visited Tehran last week, but said on his return that “no progress” had been made on the issues he raised.
Khatibzadeh, asked about the visit, said: “Good talks took place at different levels. These talks remained unfinished because we did not reach agreement on some words and concepts that are important to both sides, but the terms of the agreement were almost finalized.”
He added that the Iranian delegation would have meetings with the Vienna-based IAEA in coming days “regarding the finalization of the text” and that “relations between the two sides will continue at different levels.”
The Iranian spokesman also criticized Britain after its Foreign Secretary Liz Truss pledged in a newspaper article co-written with Israel’s Yair Lapid to work “night and day” to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
“You will find that at least some European countries are not coming to Vienna with the necessary will to lift sanctions,” Khatibzadeh said.
“This shows that not only are some of these countries not serious, but they want to prolong the talks and delay the lifting of sanctions.”


Lebanon’s president in Qatar for talks over Gulf crisis

Updated 29 November 2021

Lebanon’s president in Qatar for talks over Gulf crisis

  • Saudi Arabia, a traditional backer of Lebanon, withdrew its ambassador from Beirut and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave last month following televised comments by Lebanon’s information minister
  • Aoun’s visit came as scores of protesters blocked major roads in Lebanon Monday to express anger against the country’s political class

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president arrived in Qatar Monday for the opening ceremony of an Arab soccer tournament amid — and for talks on an precedented diplomatic crisis between Beirut and oil-rich Gulf nations.
President Michel Aoun’s face-to-face meetings with the emir of Qatar and other Qatari officials come as Lebanon is sinks deeper into its economic crisis, the worst in its modern history. The country’s financial meltdown, coupled with multiple other crises, has plunged more than three quarters of the nation’s population of six million, including a million Syrian refugees, into poverty.
Aoun is expected to discuss the tense relations between Lebanon and gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia during his meetings in Doha. Aoun has repeatedly said that Lebanon wants excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Aoun is a political ally of the Shiite militant group.
Saudi Arabia, a traditional backer of Lebanon, withdrew its ambassador from Beirut and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave last month following televised comments by George Kordahi, Lebanon’s information minister. Kordahi said the war in Yemen was futile and called it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition.
Yemen’s war began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthi rebels, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year, determined to restore the internationally recognized government and oust the rebels.
Aoun told Qatar’s Al-Raya daily that in face-to-face meetings, he will call on the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to invest in the reconstruction of Beirut’s port that was destroyed last year in a massive blast. Aoun also said he would seek an investment in other infrastructure projects, including electricity, that is cut for much of the day in Lebanon.
Qatar has one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world and had been a major investor in Lebanon in the past.
However many countries have refused to invest in Lebanon or offer assistance to its government before it implements major reforms to fight the corruption and mismanagement that sparked the economic meltdown in 2019.
On Tuesday, Aoun will attend the opening ceremony of the FIFA Arab Cup in which 16 teams will compete. The 19-day tournament is an opportunity for the world to witness Qatar’s new stadiums that will host the World Cup next year.
Aoun’s visit came as scores of protesters blocked major roads in Lebanon Monday to express anger against the country’s political class for the worsening economic crisis and harsh living conditions.
The road closures with burning tires were mainly in the capital Beirut, the northern city of Tripoli, the southern port city of Sidon and the eastern Bekaa valley.
Lebanon’s economic crisis deteriorated in recent weeks with the Lebanese pound hitting new lows of 25,800 to the US dollar eradicating purchase power of most the country’s residents who get paid in pounds. The minimum monthly wage is 675,000 pounds or ($27).

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UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

Updated 29 November 2021

UK, Israel to work together to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons

Britain and Israel will “work night and day” in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, the foreign ministers of the two countries wrote in a joint article.
“The clock is ticking, which heightens the need for close cooperation with our partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions,” the UK’s Liz Truss and her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid wrote in the Telegraph newspaper on Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier in the day that his country was “very worried” that world powers will remove sanctions on Iran in exchange for insufficient caps on its nuclear program, as negotiators convene in Vienna on Monday in a last-ditch effort to salvage a nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, Israel and Britain will sign a 10-year agreement on Monday to work closely on areas such as cybersecurity, technology, trade and defense, according to the Telegraph.
The foreign ministers added in the article that Israel will officially become Britain’s “tier one” cyber partner, in a bid to improve its cyber defenses as countries around the world face increased threats.


Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Updated 28 November 2021

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

  • Diplomats: Tehran simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how

PARIS: World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday in a last ditch effort to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
The US will also send a delegation, headed by Washington’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, to participate in the talks indirectly.
Israel worries Iran will secure sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers, but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb making potential, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other world powers involved.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.
The latest round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June, and have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, then they will review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one European diplomat.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.