‘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

‘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.”


Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan

Updated 12 sec ago

Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan

  • Netanyahu wants Israel to retain security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarization
  • Abbas charged that the plan confirmed the Israeli government’s intentions to recolonize the Gaza Strip

CAIRO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has stressed “categorical Palestinian rejection” of the principles announced in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s so-called post-war plan for Gaza.

Netanyahu wants Israel to retain security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarization.

His plan, which brings together a range of well-established Israeli positions, underlines Netanyahu’s resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state which he sees as a security threat.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has received a written message from Abbas which calls for a global conference to adopt a comprehensive peace plan with international guarantees and a timeline for implementation of the ending of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Abbas has called on the league to support Palestine in obtaining full membership of the UN.

The message urged countries that have not yet recognized Palestine to do so.

Aboul Gheit received Ambassador Muhannad Al-Aklouk, representative of Palestine to the bloc, at the headquarters of the general secretariat, and Al-Aklouk had brought a message from Abbas.

Jamal Rushdi, a spokesperson for the Arab League chief, said that the president’s message included a categorical Palestinian rejection of the principles announced by the Israeli prime minister for the so-called “day after of the war.”

The message included a warning of the danger of those principles — especially the denial of the existence of the Palestinian people, and insisting on imposing Israeli sovereignty on the land extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Abbas charged that the plan confirmed the Israeli government’s intentions to recolonize the Gaza Strip and perpetuate the occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem through plans to build thousands of settlement units.

Rushdi said that the message warned that the goal of the Israeli government was not only to undermine the chances of peace based on the two-state solution, but also to intensify ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

The president’s message included the affirmation that the Gaza Strip is an integral part of the State of Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority is ready to assume the responsibilities of governance in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, and is prepared to work toward establishing security and peace, as well as stability, in the region within the framework of a comprehensive peace plan.

The message called on the Arab League’s chief to continue working for a ceasefire; the provision of humanitarian aid; the return of displaced people to their homes in the north; the prevention of their displacement; and a halt to Israel’s expansionist plans and practices in the Gaza Strip.

Aboul Gheit confirmed to Al-Aklouk that he would continue to work to achieve all the goals highlighted in the president’s message — most notably an immediate ceasefire, working to bring aid in urgently and sustainably, and standing with full force against the displacement plan.

Aboul Gheit stressed that stopping the war remained a fundamental priority for the Arab League and its member states.

He reiterated that the Palestinians, Arabs, and the world always rejected the displacement plan.

Aboul Gheit pointed out that addressing the humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israeli aggression could not be achieved in isolation from a settlement aiming at the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

He emphasized that the Palestinians were capable of governing themselves.

Aboul Gheit added that the continuation of the occupation was no longer possible and that the two-state solution remained the only formula capable of achieving security, peace, and stability between Palestinians and Israelis in the region and the world.

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Updated 29 February 2024

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

  • Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes
  • Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan

JERUSALEM: Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.
Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes. The site is also revered by Jews as vestige of their two ancient temples. Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel’s 18 percent Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.
That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas’ cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed “Al Aqsa Flood,” which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.
But Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.
“The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet,” government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.
He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.
A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a “capitulation to terror,” and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Updated 29 February 2024

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

  • Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them

MOSUL, Iraq: A Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq on Thursday killed two fighters from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Iraqi security sources said.
Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them, two security sources told Reuters.
There has been a long-running Turkish campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants of the PKK, YBS and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which are all regarded as terrorist groups by Ankara.

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Updated 29 February 2024

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called voting a religious duty
  • Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda
DUBAI: Iran holds a parliamentary election on Friday seen as a test of the clerical establishment’s popularity at a time of growing dissent over an array of political, social and economic crises.
The vote will be the first formal gauge of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Critics from inside and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, say the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system could be at stake due to economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called voting a religious duty. He accused the country’s “enemies” — a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel — of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
The commander of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Wednesday that “each vote is like a missile launched at the enemy’s heart.”
But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran’s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement and corruption.
While establishment supporters will likely vote for hard-line candidates, widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may keep many Iranians at home.
Prices for basic goods like bread, meat, dairy and rice have skyrocketed in past months. The official inflation rate stands at about 40 percent. Analysts and insiders put it at over 50 percent.
The US 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.
Reformists shun ‘meaningless’ vote
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize the Islamic Republic.
With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of Friday’s race and reformists calling it an “unfree and unfair election,” the vote will pit hard-liners and low-key conservatives against each other, all proclaiming loyalty to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, with a vetting body called the Guardian Council approving 75 percent of initially registered hopefuls.
The unelected Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six legal experts generally within Khamenei’s orbit, has the authority to scrutinize laws and election candidates.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
On the same day, Iranians also vote for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader. The 88-member clerical body rarely intervenes directly in policy but is expected to help choose the 84-year-old Khamenei’s successor.
Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda. These are determined by Khamenei who holds the utmost authority in the country’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
Polling has projected turnover of about 41 percent, while former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said on Monday that surveys showed the participation could be as low as 27 percent, significantly lower than 42 percent in a 2020 parliamentary vote.
Discredited after years of failed attempts at widening political and social freedoms, the pro-reform opposition suffered further unpopularity in 2022 when protesters scorned its mantra of gradual change.
The Reform Front coalition has said it will not take part in the “meaningless” election but has not boycotted the vote.

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Updated 29 February 2024

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

  • Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria

Beirut: Israel killed a Hezbollah fighter in a strike on Syria, close to the Lebanese border, also hitting near Damascus Thursday, a war monitor said, hours after similar attacks.
Hezbollah holds sway over Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria, as well as some regions on the other side of the border including Qusayr, the target of Thursday’s strike.
“An Israeli drone strike on a truck killed a Hezbollah fighter in the Qusayr area near the Syrian-Lebanese border,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At the same time, Israeli strikes targeted Syrian air defense and radar sites near Damascus, said the Britain-based monitor with a network of sources inside Syria.
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard faraway explosions.
Syrian state media did not report the strikes.
Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces following the eruption of civil war.
Since Syria’s war began in 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes against its northern neighbor, primarily targeting pro-Iran forces, among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army.
But the strikes have multiplied during the almost five-month-old war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
On Wednesday evening, Israel struck near Damascus, killing two Syrian pro-Hezbollah fighters, the Observatory had said.
Last week, an Israeli strike on a truck in Syria near the Lebanese border killed two Hezbollah members, also according to the Observatory.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria.
Syria’s war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.