‘Having two armies in one country was a really big mistake’ in Sudan, South Sudan’s acting FM tells Arab News

Armed men walk in Khartoum on May 22, 2023, as fighting between two rival generals persists. Gunfire and explosions rocked Sudan's capital on May 22 morning hours before a one-week humanitarian ceasefire was due to take effect, the latest after a series of truces that have all been violated. (Photo by AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2023
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‘Having two armies in one country was a really big mistake’ in Sudan, South Sudan’s acting FM tells Arab News

  • Deng Dau Deng Malek says the crisis, in some ways, was inevitable even though it caught the world off guard
  • Appeals to feuding Sudanese leaders to ensure protection of oil pipeline to ensure viability of South Sudan economy

DUBAI: The fighting in Sudan, now in its second month, shows no sign of ending, and is contributing to Africa’s swelling number of people displaced by conflicts. What began as a feud between two factions in Khartoum had spread to other regions, claiming lives, shutting down public life, destroying infrastructure and sparking a humanitarian crisis characterized by shortages of medicine, fuel and food.

Now, Sudan’s neighbors, many of which have for decades dealt with their own conflicts, instability and humanitarian challenges, are calling for an end to the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the paramilitary group Rapid Armed Forces, or RAF, before it spills across borders and engulfs them.

Even prior to the eruption of violence in Khartoum on April 15, efforts were underway to prevent simmering tensions between the rival Sudanese factions from turning into an all-out conflict.




A view shows black smoke and fire at Omdurman market in Omdurman, Sudan, May 17, 2023. (Screengrab/Reuters) 

“One week before the crisis, our chief negotiator went to Khartoum to meet with the chairperson of the Sovereign Council, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the then-deputy chairperson of the Sovereign Council, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo,” Deng Dau Deng Malek, the acting minister of foreign affairs of South Sudan, told Arab News in a recent Zoom interview from Juba.

He said the last-ditch diplomatic efforts by the South Sudanese government were aimed at ironing out the kinks of the planned transition to a civilian-led government in Khartoum.

Among the many roadblocks in the path of a peaceful settlement was the thorny issue of the integration of Dagalo’s RSF into the military, an issue which lit the fuse of Sudan’s current conflict.

Malek declined to assign blame exclusively to one side or the other, saying merely that, in some ways, the conflict in Sudan was inevitable.

He said that while the world was largely caught off guard by the eruption of fighting in Sudan, his own country’s experience with conflict resolution and peacemaking equipped him with the foresight to predict that a war was inevitable within the borders of its northern neighbor.




Smoke rises above buildings in southern Khartoum on May 19, 2023, as violence between two rival Sudanese generals continues. (AFP)

In South Sudan, Malek recalled, “there was a provision that provided (for) two armies in one country, which was a really big mistake at that time. So, once the two armies came to Juba, it led to a war in July 2016.”

He added: “We were very much aware that there is always a problem to agree to two armies in one country, whatever the nature, whatever the standing of that army.

“So, yes, the situation in Sudan was known to be really going toward that.”

Even though the South Sudan government expected tensions over Sudan’s power-sharing agreements, Malek acknowledged that it was unprepared for the crisis that arose on April 15.

“We were not very prepared (for) that kind of scale of war (that) would blow out like that,” he said.

“We knew it would be a limited engagement, with a very practical coming together for the SAF and RSF — (but) not to go the way they have gone so far.”

With neither Al-Burhan nor Dagalo willing to call a timeout, South Sudan and other neighbors of Sudan are bracing themselves to deal with the repercussions. Hundreds of thousands have already fled the strife-torn country, with the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, predicting that the fighting would force 860,000 people to flee.

“This is one of our biggest concerns, the spillover,” Malek said.

Sudan shares a border, in order of length, with South Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Libya.

The UNHCR has envisioned three scenarios: Sudanese refugees fleeing to neighboring countries; refugees hosted by Sudan returning home; and refugees hosted by Sudan moving to other neighboring countries.

“At this particular stage, there are (relatively) very few people who have moved to South Sudan,” Malek said, alluding to the fact that while the majority of those displaced by the fighting in Sudan have fled to Egypt and Chad, South Sudan has received 58,000 people.

Of these, according to Malek, only 8,000 are Sudanese. Incidentally, prior to the fighting that began last month, Sudan itself was home to more than a million refugees — mostly from South Sudan — as well as more than 3 million IDPs, or internally displaced persons.

With the security situation in Sudan no longer suitable for those who once sought shelter there, many former refugees are now twice displaced, returning to their countries of origin or seeking safety elsewhere.

Aside from dealing with waves of refugees and IDPs, Sudan’s neighbors will also have to face up to the wide-ranging consequences of the conflict.

“(South Sudan’s) economic viability is also dependent on the pipeline, the oil that passes through the territory of the Republic of Sudan,” Malek said.

South Sudan’s crude oil exports reached around 144,000 barrels per day early this year, with the majority of this being piped to Sudan’s Red Sea coast. Now, the price of oil has fallen from $100 per barrel to $70.

Though oil continues to flow through the vital pipeline, the conflict has threatened oil revenues as well as the world’s energy supply.

“Our message to both of the (Sudanese factional) leaders and those who are fighting — (something) we will say to both — is this: We need protection of this pipeline because it is the viability of the economy of (our) country,” Malek said.




United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) personnel use an excavator to repair the dykes in Bentiu on February 8, 2023. Four straight years of flooding, an unprecedented phenomenon linked to climate change, has swamped two-thirds of South Sudan. (AFP)

The combined blow of economic setbacks and influx of displaced people threatens to overwhelm Sudan’s neighbors in northern and central Africa, most of whom are impoverished and unstable themselves.

South Sudan is still reeling from a six-year civil war which ended just three years ago. That human-made catastrophe was followed by severe floods, which continue to this day and have pushed the country’s roughly 12 million residents, more than 2 million of whom are internally displaced, to the brink of starvation by making agricultural lands inaccessible.

“The UN too is overwhelmed by our own situation,” Malek said, adding that “UN agencies have been under very serious stress.”

As a result of the many overlapping crises, three-quarters of South Sudan’s population is dependent on humanitarian aid, according to UNHCR data.




Nearly a million people were affected by South Sudan flooding. (AN photo by Robert Bociaga)

Malek pointed out that South Sudan had been hosting 340,000 Sudanese in several camps in the Upper Nile state. “We are coordinating with the UN agencies to be able to address the situation of those who are returning and the (people who) are crossing (into South Sudan) from Sudan,” he said.

“Particularly now, when we are talking about the northern part of South Sudan, to which the refugees and IDPs are returning. The infrastructure there is a challenge. Also, Sudan was the only way that we received commodities from Port Sudan, and now (there is) a very big challenge as to whether that will continue to work.”

Looking to the future, Malek said international support is vital to limiting the damage being caused by the crisis in Sudan and preventing its neighbors from being destabilized by a humanitarian catastrophe.

In this context, Malek said UN agencies would have to “provide the necessary support to localities inside Sudan” so that they can stop the free movement of fighters.




Provision of water, sanitation and hygiene to a growing number of IDPs in South Sudan has become an alarming issue. AN photo by Robert Bociaga)

He cautioned once more that if “the insecurity and war spread out of Khartoum to the region, the situation will be difficult for all the neighboring countries.”

Turning to the problems that beset South Sudan, Malek noted that while the US has long been an ally, supporting the world’s youngest nation through times of conflict — from the 2011 independence referendum through to the 2018 peace talks in Kenya — work still needs to be done for the sanctions and arms embargoes imposed on the country to be lifted.

“We have said that now we have to open up a new page with the United States of America and for us to work together,” he said. “Of course, they have issues with (our) human rights issues, issues of democracy, issues of corruption, or issues of governance.”

“South Sudan is under sanctions and the US is the penholder on these particular sanctions (at the UN). There are about five benchmarks that (the US wants) to see. If these five benchmarks are met by the government of South Sudan, then we will be able to get out of sanctions and the arms embargo.”

 


US does not expect to be drawn into war but predicts attack by Iran against Israel

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2024
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US does not expect to be drawn into war but predicts attack by Iran against Israel

  • The White House said it warned Iran to not use that attack as a pretext to escalate further in the region

WASHINGTON: The United States expects an attack by Iran against Israel but one that would not be big enough to draw Washington into war, a US official said late on Thursday.
The White House said earlier Washington did not want conflict to spread in the Middle East and the US had told Iran it was not involved in an air strike against a top Iranian military commander in Damascus.
The White House added it warned Iran to not use that attack as a pretext to escalate further in the region.
Suspected Israeli warplanes bombed Iran’s embassy in Damascus on Monday in a strike for which Iran has vowed revenge and in which a top Iranian general and six other Iranian military officers were killed, ratcheting up tension in a region already strained by the Gaza war.
Iranian sources told Reuters Tehran has signalled to Washington that it will respond to Israel’s attack on its Syrian embassy in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it will not act hastily, as Tehran presses demands including a Gaza truce.
The United States has been on high alert about possible retaliatory strikes from Iran and US envoys have been working to lower tensions.
Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s military assault on Hamas-governed Gaza has since killed over 33,000 according to the local health ministry, displaced nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, caused a humanitarian crisis and led to genocide allegations that Israeli denies.
Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, waging attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Tehran has avoided direct confrontation with Israel or the United States, while declaring support for its allies.

 


Russia, Germany and UK urge restraint as Iranian threat puts Middle East on edge

Updated 12 April 2024
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Russia, Germany and UK urge restraint as Iranian threat puts Middle East on edge

  • “Iran should instead work to de-escalate and prevent further attacks,” said Cameron
  • Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that Israel would respond directly to any attack by Iran

MOSCOW: Russia, Germany and Britain on Thursday urged countries in the Middle East to show restraint and Israel said it was preparing to “meet all its security needs” in a region on edge over an Iranian threat to strike Israel.

The German airline Lufthansa, one of only two Western carriers flying to Tehran, extended a suspension of its flights to the Iranian capital and Russia warned against travel to the Middle East.
Iran has vowed revenge for the April 1 airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus that killed a top Iranian general and six other Iranian military officers, ratcheting up tension in a region already strained by the Gaza war.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Israel “must be punished and it shall be,” saying it was tantamount to an attack on Iranian soil.
The “imperative for Iran to punish this rogue regime” might have been avoided had the UN Security Council condemned the strike and brought the perpetrators to justice, Tehran’s mission to the United Nations said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was keeping up its war in Gaza but making security preparations elsewhere.
“Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We are prepared to meet all of the security needs of the State of Israel, both defensively and offensively,” he said in comments released following a visit to an air force base.

A view of the consular annex of Iran's embassy in Damascus, Syria, that was demolished by an Israeli airstrike on April 1, 2024, killing at least 13 people, including two Iranian Revolutionary Guards generals and five personnel from the force. (AP)

Iran has signalled to Washington that it will respond to Israel’s attack in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it will not act hastily, Iranian sources said.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that Israel would respond directly to any attack by Iran, Gallant’s office said.
Conflict has spread across the Middle East since the eruption of the Gaza war, with Iran-backed groups declaring support for the Palestinians waging attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Tehran has avoided direct confrontation with Israel or the United States, while declaring support for its allies.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian to urge “maximum restraint” to avoid further escalation.
Russia’s foreign ministry told citizens they should not travel to the Middle East, especially to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
“Right now it’s very important for everyone to maintain restraint so as not to lead to a complete destabilization of the situation in the region, which doesn’t exactly shine with stability and predictability,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing.

‘Potential for miscalculation’
British foreign minister David Cameron said on Thursday he had made clear to Amirabdollahian that Iran should not draw the Middle East into a wider conflict.
“I am deeply concerned about the potential for miscalculation leading to further violence,” Cameron said on X.

 

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Secretary of State Antony Blinken called counterparts including the Turkish, Chinese and Saudi foreign ministers “to make clear that escalation is not in anyone’s interest and that countries should urge Iran not to escalate.”
US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday Iran was threatening to launch a “significant attack in Israel,” and that he had told Netanyahu that “our commitment to Israel security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is iron-clad.”
The US expects an attack by Iran against Israel but one that would not be big enough to draw Washington into war, a US official said late on Thursday.
Iran is the third-largest oil producer in the OPEC group and oil prices stayed near six-month highs on Thursday.
Late on Wednesday, an Iranian news agency published an Arabic report on the X platform saying the air space over Tehran had been closed for military drills, but then removed the report and denied it had issued such news.
Lufthansa said it would probably not fly to Tehran before April 13. Austrian Airlines said it was still planning to fly on Thursday but was adjusting timings to avoid crew having to disembark for an overnight layover.
Iranian air space is also a key overflight route for Emirates’ and Qatar Airways’ flights to Europe and North America.
Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Aeroflot and Air Arabia, among the airlines that fly to Tehran, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

 


US tells staff in Israel not to travel outside cities amid Iran threat

The US embassy in Jerusalem. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 12 April 2024
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US tells staff in Israel not to travel outside cities amid Iran threat

  • Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory
  • US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday Iran was threatening to launch a “significant attack in Israel,” and that the US remained committed to its ally’s security

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it had restricted its employees in Israel and their family members from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva areas amid Iran’s threats to retaliate against its regional adversary.
Iran has vowed revenge for the April 1 airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus, ratcheting up tension in a region already strained by the Gaza war.
“Out of an abundance of caution, US government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv (including Herzliya, Netanya, and Even Yehuda), Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva areas until further notice,” the US embassy said in a security alert on its website on Thursday. “US government personnel are authorized to transit between these three areas for personal travel.”
Washington has a policy of informing all American citizens via such warnings when it updates security measures for its personnel in a country.
US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday Iran was threatening to launch a “significant attack in Israel,” and that the US remained committed to its ally’s security.
Asked about the security alert, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller noted that Iran had been making public threats toward Israel.
“We conduct ongoing assessments all the time about the situation on the ground,” Miller said at a press briefing. “I’m not going to speak to the specific assessments that led to us to restrict our employees’ and family members’ personal travel, but clearly we are monitoring the threat environment in the Middle East and specifically in Israel.”

 


More aid is supposed to be entering the Gaza Strip. Why isn’t it helping?

Updated 12 April 2024
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More aid is supposed to be entering the Gaza Strip. Why isn’t it helping?

  • While Israel says it has dramatically increased the number of aid trucks entering the territory, UN workers report only a slight uptick — possibly because they count trucks differently

JERUSALEM: Under heavy US pressure, Israel has promised to ramp up aid to Gaza dramatically, saying last week it would open another cargo crossing and surge more trucks than ever before into the besieged enclave.
But days later, there are few signs of those promises materializing and international officials say starvation is widespread in hard-hit northern Gaza.
Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said this week she accepted “credible” reports that famine is now occurring in the area and urged Israel to take further steps to expedite humanitarian aid shipments.
Power’s remarks echoed those of US President Joe Biden, who said on Wednesday that Israeli efforts to increase aid were “not enough.”
While Israel says it has dramatically increased the number of aid trucks entering the territory, UN workers report only a slight uptick — possibly because they count trucks differently.
Here’s what we know about the aid entering Gaza, and why discrepancies in reporting persist:
HOW MUCH AID IS ENTERING GAZA?
Israel says that since Sunday it has transported an average of 400 trucks a day into Gaza and that aid is now piling up on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, one of two major crossings into the territory.
But Juliette Touma, communications director for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said that while aid workers have noticed a slight increase in the amount of aid entering Gaza, it’s nothing close to the surge Israel is claiming.
On Monday, UNRWA says 223 trucks of aid passed. On Tuesday, that number hit 246. On Wednesday, it was down to 141.
Meanwhile, only trickles of aid are reaching northern Gaza.
WHAT HAS ISRAEL PROMISED?
After Biden said last week that future American support for the war in Gaza depends on Israel doing more to protect civilians and aid workers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a series of steps. Biden spoke out after an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers delivering food to the strip.
Netanyahu pledged to immediately re-open Israel’s Erez crossing into northern Gaza — a pedestrian crossing destroyed by Hamas militants when they stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Netanyahu also said he would allow Israel’s port in Ashdod to process aid shipments and increase Jordanian aid packages through another land crossing.
But Israeli officials this week dropped the plan to open Erez. Instead, they say a new crossing will be built, though it is unclear when it will open. The Ashdod port, meanwhile, is not yet accepting aid shipments and Gaza aid groups report no significant increase in trucks received at their warehouses.
Before the latest Israel-Hamas war, some 500 trucks carrying food, fuel and other supplies entered Gaza daily. That was supplemented by fish and produce farmed within the territory.
Even that was barely enough in a crowded territory whose economy has been battered by a 17-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. The blockade, meant to keep Hamas from arming, restricted the flow of goods in and out of Gaza and contributed to widespread poverty and unemployment.
Scott Anderson, the acting director of UNRWA in Gaza, said the low levels of aid since the war started have compounded an existing, pre-war nutrition deficit in the territory.
“You have to remember, this was not a nutrition-rich environment before the war. The resilience was not there,” said Anderson.
WHY IS THERE A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN THE UN AND ISRAEL’S NUMBERS?
Israel and the UN count trucks arriving in Gaza differently.
Israel counts every truck it inspects and allows to pass into Gaza, according to Shimon Freedman, a spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli defense body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs.
At the Kerem Shalom crossing, once the trucks pass into Gaza, the pallets of aid they are carrying are deposited in a 1-kilometer-long (a half-mile) zone for Palestinian drivers to pick up.
UNRWA only counts the trucks, driven by a Palestinian contractor, returning from that zone, Anderson said.
He also said that sometimes the trucks arriving from Israel are not fully loaded. Palestinian drivers on the Gaza side of the crossing load their trucks fully before passing through the gate — something that could further account for truck count differences.
WHAT IS SLOWING AID TRANSFER?
Getting from Israeli inspection, through the corridor and past the gate into Gaza takes time — and is made more arduous by the way Israel uses the Kerem Shalom crossing, Anderson said.
Since the war began, Israel has kept the crossing partially closed, Anderson said. Palestinian drivers must also wait for the incoming trucks to be unloaded — further narrowing the window of time allowed for pickup.
Aid inspected by Israel sometimes sits overnight, awaiting pickup. The UN says it stops all operations at 4:30 p.m. for safety purposes due to a breakdown in public order and airstrikes at night. UNRWA says they used to use local Palestinian police to escort aid convoys, but many refused to continue serving after airstrikes killed at least eight police officers in Rafah. Israel says armed Hamas militants have tried to siphon off aid.
COGAT denied allegations that they restrict the crossing’s hours or limit movement of trucks to pick up aid and blamed the UN for the backup, saying the agency does not have enough workers to move aid to warehouses for timely distribution.
WHAT HAPPENS MOVING FORWARD?
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday night that increasing aid efforts is a top priority.
“We plan to flood Gaza with aid and we are expecting to reach 500 trucks per day,” said Gallant. He did not specify a time frame for reaching that goal.
But even if Israel meets its goal, slowdowns at the crossings and convoy safety concerns may continue to hamper distribution. The UN has called for a return to prewar procedures — with additional terminals open and a significant amount of commercial goods, in addition to humanitarian aid, able to pass through.
“Gaza has become very quickly dependent on relief handouts,” Touma said. “The market has been forced to shut. This is not sustainable.”


No Security Council ‘consensus’ on Palestinian UN membership

Updated 12 April 2024
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No Security Council ‘consensus’ on Palestinian UN membership

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Members of the UN Security Council failed to reach a consensus Thursday on a bid by Palestinians for full UN membership, meaning the longshot effort is now likely headed for a more formal council vote.
The Palestinians, who have had observer status at the world body since 2012, have lobbied for years to gain full membership, which would amount to recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Any request to become a UN member state must first pass through the Security Council — where Israel’s ally the United States wields a veto — and then be endorsed by the General Assembly.
In light of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Palestinians revived a 2011 UN membership application last week, prompting the Security Council to launch a formal review process. This included the ad hoc committee that failed to reach consensus Thursday and was composed of the council’s member states.
During its closed-door meeting “there was no consensus,” said Maltese Ambassador Vanessa Frazier, who holds the council’s rotating presidency for April.
However, two-thirds of the members were in favor of full membership, she said, without specifying which countries.
While the ad hoc committee can only move forward by consensus — loosely speaking, when everyone is in agreement — any Security Council member may now put forth a resolution for vote on the matter.
According to diplomatic sources, a vote could be held April 18, brought forth by Algeria which represents Arab nations on the Council.
Even if the matter were to receive the necessary nine of 15 votes, observers predict a veto from the United States.
Washington maintains the United Nations is not the place for hashing out Palestinian statehood, which it stresses should be the result of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“All we ask for is to take our rightful place among the community of nations,” Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters earlier this week.
The Gaza war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack against Israel left 1,170 people dead, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,545 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.