Conflict and mass displacement in Sudan add to South Sudan’s woes

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Updated 22 June 2023
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Conflict and mass displacement in Sudan add to South Sudan’s woes

  • Protracted fighting piling pressure on already stretched resources, South Sudan’s top diplomat at UN tells Arab News
  • Akuei Bona Malwal claims authority of AU being undermined, African solutions to African crises ignored

NEW YORK CITY: Conflict and mass displacement in Sudan pose a threat to South Sudan’s limited humanitarian resources and brittle peace, Akuei Bona Malwal, the country’s permanent representative to the UN, has told Arab News.

Twelve years after gaining independence from its northern neighbor, South Sudan continues to face challenges of its own, with millions displaced to neighboring countries, including Sudan, to escape poverty and instability.




Akuei Bona Malwal, Sudan's permanent representative to the UN. (AN photo)

Now the violent power struggle in Sudan is forcing hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese living there to return en masse, alongside huge numbers of Sudanese and other nationalities, piling pressure on South Sudan’s already stretched humanitarian resources.

“There are two aspects to the humanitarian crisis,” Malwal told Arab News during a special interview in New York City.

“First, we have close to 2 million South Sudanese citizens who are in Sudan, and in Khartoum, in particular. They are now trying to come back to South Sudan. And this has taken people by surprise.




A violent power struggle in Sudan is forcing people, both locals and foreigners, to flee the country every day, piling pressure on neighbor South Sudan’s already stretched humanitarian resources. (AFP)

“Our authorities in the country don’t have the facilities to accommodate them quickly, and repatriate them to their villages. So, that is actually exhausting the meager facilities that we have.

“And then we also have the Sudanese taking refuge in our country (along with) other Africans and other nationalities who are coming to South Sudan because we have opened the door for people to come in to take refuge. So that’s also a burden on the government.”

Fighting in Sudan began on April 15 between the Sudanese Armed Forces, headed by Sudan’s de-facto leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by Al-Burhan’s deputy turned rival, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemetti.

The clashes have plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis, with up to 3,000 people killed, according to Sudan’s minister of health, and more than 1.8 million displaced within Sudan or across its borders, according to the UN. Many have fled to Egypt, Chad and South Sudan, which have issues of their own.

Fueled by intercommunal violence, crime, public health challenges, climate and economic shocks, and poor governance, poverty in South Sudan is ubiquitous. Now it being aggravated by conflict and insecurity.

About 70 percent of South Sudanese live below the poverty line. On the global human development index, South Sudan ranks last. On top of this, the country is also facing its worst flooding in years, and continues to face very high levels of food insecurity.




Sudanese refugees collect water from a tap at the Gorom Refugee near Juba, in South Sudan, on June 20, 2023. (REUTERS)

In 2023, around 10 million South Sudanese, or 76 percent of the population, will need humanitarian assistance in order to survive. And the number continues to increase.

South Sudan’s fragile stability is also in jeopardy. The country’s latest peace agreement was signed in 2018, leading to a delicate truce and the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity in 2020.

Although hostilities between the government and the main opposition have eased, the very logic of the power-sharing agreement has actually contributed to the continuing violence.

The US, which last year suspended its assistance for the peace process monitoring mechanisms, has accused South Sudan’s leadership of failing to live up to its end of the deal by showing “a lack of political will necessary to implement critical reforms.”

The UN Security Council recently voted to extend the arms embargo on South Sudan, citing the country’s failure to meet the benchmarks stipulated in the peace process, related to security arrangements and disarmament.

Malwal described the extension as “ill-intentioned” and “counterproductive,” and said it had been handled in “bad faith.”




Akuei Bona Malwal. (Supplied photo)

“The Americans are angry with the South Sudanese leadership,” he said. “They keep using this word that I don’t like: ‘We midwifed you.’ Meaning they helped us become independent, which is true.

“We are not denying that. But, then, how do I become sovereign now in order to subordinate my independence and my sovereignty to the US, because they have helped us to become independent?

“Simply because we disagree on security, that doesn’t mean we no longer should be friends or partners. We still want to work with the US.”

Malwal believes the situation unfolding in Sudan has undermined the political process in his home country.

“Sudan being the current chair of IGAD, and the South Sudanese peace implementation is being monitored by IGAD, this has slowed things down,” he said, referring to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the eight-country African trade bloc headquartered in Djibouti.

“There are certain things that we are doing on our own. But it is always good to have a functioning regional organization that is actually verifying what we are doing, because certain (members) in the international arena do not think that we are faithfully implementing the peace process.”

Preventing further spillovers into the wider region means quickly resolving the crisis in Sudan. Malwal said his greatest fear is that the fighting will be prolonged, leading to further destruction and displacement.

“I grew up in Khartoum, and I went to school there,” he said. “It’s sad to see what is happening now. We thought Khartoum should be stable. It was moving forward, actually. And now it has gone back. And it’s very unfortunate. Sudan is an important country in the region and it should be stable as soon as possible.

“We knew there were some tensions. The signs were there. But we were hoping for a very smooth transition, because the two generals were actually together. They were allies. And we just didn’t know, in the last days before the eruption, why it had escalated to where it is. Nobody knows.

“That needs to be addressed quickly, because (the fighting) is unnecessary, really. The people of Sudan, and especially the citizens of Khartoum, and the city itself, shouldn’t be a battlefield.”

Multiple ceasefire agreements have been reached between the warring factions in Sudan, including what became known as the Jeddah Declaration — the outcome of negotiations led by Saudi Arabia and the US — who managed to bring the two generals to the negotiating table.

However, every truce to date has been violated.

Saudi Arabia and the US warned in a recent joint statement that “should the parties fail to observe the 24-hour ceasefire, facilitators will be compelled to consider adjourning the Jeddah talks.”




Representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces and its rival Rapid Support Forces prepare to sign the Jeddah Declaration, witnessed by Saudi and US officials, during a ceremony in Jeddah on May 11, 2023. (Supplied)

Malwal echoed the African Union’s call to unify international peace efforts in order to avoid multiple overlapping initiatives, which could be a “complicating factor.”

“You don’t need to have so many forums for peace negotiations,” he said. “When the US and the Saudis managed to bring the generals to the negotiating table, everybody was waiting to see how they would fare, including the UN and IGAD.

“That’s why South Sudan President Salva Kiir has said let’s work behind the scenes while we wait and see what will happen from Jeddah.

“Now, maybe there is a need for the UN to come in and give IGAD instead the means to deal with the situation and see what happens. Maybe the situation needs a lower approach, rather than a high-profile approach.




This Oct. 3, 2020, photo, shows South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (C) with Sudan's Sovereign Council chairman Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Chad President Idriss Deby  during the signing of the South Sudan peace deal in Juba . (AFP)

“And that’s what I think IGAD would be best suited for, because Sudan is a member of IGAD. These are people who know the two generals very well. President Salva Kiir knows the two generals personally.

“He would bring in Kenya, who is a member of that mediation team. It’s a very important country in the region. Djibouti is a good friend of Sudan and a member of IGAD. So these are three countries that know these people.

“I think if they are empowered more to take the lead and to see what they could do, maybe there would be a way of rescuing the situation faster.”




A picture taken on June 16, 2023, shows a covered body across from a military armored vehicle on a street in the West Darfur state capital El Geneina, amid ongoing fighting between two generals in war-torn Sudan. (AFP)

However, Malwal believes the authority of the African Union has been routinely undermined.

“We’ve been dealing with certain members of the Security Council who are not listening,” he said. “They don’t respect — and I wouldn’t use that word if I didn’t know what I’m talking about  — the decision of the African Union vis-a-vis the issues that concerned African countries.

“You cannot say to the AU you’re a part of this process, and then, when the heads of African states say they are against sanctions on South Sudan and ask for the opportunity to deal with the issue of South Sudan or any other issue, you don’t say: ‘No, we have our own way of looking at it.’

“We have moral authority and we are imposing these because our way is the only way that’s going to resolve this issue. So, I don’t think the AU is being treated as an equally important organization when it comes to certain issues and, in particular, in South Sudan,” he said.

 


US ‘disappointed’ by Israeli plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements, says Blinken

Updated 9 sec ago
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US ‘disappointed’ by Israeli plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements, says Blinken

BUENOS AIRES: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday he was “disappointed” by an Israeli announcement that it plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Blinken said during a news conference in Buenos Aires that it was long-standing US policy that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Turkiye, Somalia to deepen military bonds after historic deal

Updated 23 February 2024
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Turkiye, Somalia to deepen military bonds after historic deal

  • Ankara needs to ratify deal approved by African nation
  • Turkiye expanding military, economic footprint in Africa, say experts

Ankara: With Somalia partnering with Turkiye to help build its sea and naval capabilities, questions have now arisen about the potential regional impact of the tie-up, and why Ankara is expanding its military footprint overseas, including seeking a greater presence in the Red Sea.

Somalia’s cabinet approved on Wednesday the historic defense deal that authorized Turkiye to defend the African nation’s coastline for the next decade, amid tensions with Ethiopia, and mandated it to build a navy for the country.

Turkiye, whose navy has been operating off Somalia’s shores and in the Gulf of Aden under the UN mission since 2009, will not only build the African country’s navy but also train and equip personnel to counter illegal fishing in the latter’s territorial waters.

Turkiye has also been training Somalia’s soldiers for a few years in a bid to help the country develop its army.

Ankara also has its largest overseas military base in Mogadishu, while a Turkish company is operating the airport of the capital city.

“This agreement will put an end to the fear of terrorism, pirates, illegal fishing, poisoning, abuse and threats from abroad,” Somalia’s Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre was quoted by local press as saying during the cabinet meeting.

“Somalia will have a true ally, a friend, and a brother in the international arena,” he added.

Although the details of the agreement have yet to be disclosed, Somalia’s press claimed that the deal would give Turkiye 30 percent of the revenues coming from the Somali exclusive economic zone, which is rich in marine resources.

Considered a gateway to the continent, Somalia’s 3,025-km coastline is the longest in Africa.

The agreement needs to be ratified by Turkiye’s parliament and the president before being finalized.

Hakan Akbas, a senior advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group, said that this pact shows Turkiye’s growing ambition to become a key player in the Horn of Africa, enhancing its ties with Somalia and Ethiopia but excluding some Ethiopian agreements troubling Mogadishu.

“Turkiye’s recent strategic moves aim to bolster Somalia’s military, promote stability, and protect its interests through security, economic, and humanitarian efforts,” he added.

According to Akbas, this agreement reflects Turkiye’s bold foreign policy and strategy to establish key military and economic partnerships aimed at securing its interests in the region.

“This gives Somalia a very essential partner in matters of national security, counter-piracy, anti-terrorism, and border protection, including against illegal fishing. It is a win-win for both nations,” he said.

Earlier this month, Somalia’s Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur signed the framework agreement in Ankara that mandated Turkiye to protect Somalia’s territorial waters.

For Rashid Abdi, chief analyst at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, the deal gives Turkiye huge leverage to reshape Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

“Turkish navy will help rebuild Somali navy and will deploy ships to patrol its maritime Economic Protection Zone. Turkiye is now positioned to become Somalia’s top strategic partner,” he told Arab News.

However tensions still remain high in the region especially after Ethiopia and the breakaway Somaliland reached an agreement granting landlocked Addis Ababa access to the Red Sea and ensuring the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state.

Somaliland is still recognized internationally as part of Somalia although it controversially declared its independence in 1991. The deal had infuriated Somalia which considered it a breach of its territorial sovereignty.

As Ankara also has close ties with Ethiopia and provided it with military drones in 2022, how Turkiye will find a balance between the national interests of both countries remains to be seen especially regarding maritime violations.

Abdi thinks that the agreement will put Turkiye in a tight spot if Ankara seeks to enforce Somali sovereignty in breakaway Somaliland.

“It will also be viewed as provocative by Ethiopia which wants a military base on the Somaliland coast close to Bab Al-Mandeb,” he said.

“Turkiye has huge commercial interest in Ethiopia. Turkiye helped Ethiopian premier end the conflict in Tigray. For the time being, Turkiye will be walking a tightrope. It is therefore uncertain how Ankara will balance the competing demands of its two Horn allies — Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopia is a big market, home of the African Union and a regional hegemon. Upsetting Ethiopia and countering its regional interests in Somaliland will put Addis Ababa on a confrontation course with Ankara,” he added.

In December, the UN Security Council lifted its three-decade arms embargo on Somalia’s government.

“The latest defense deal with Somalia is anchored in a meticulously crafted intellectual framework spanning a decade,” said international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Ankara recently announced the provision of a second batch of MILGEM corvettes to the Ukrainian navy. Turkiye’s forthcoming endeavor to assist Somalia in bolstering its naval forces will mark the country’s second significant contribution to a foreign navy,” he added.

According to Guvenc, Turkiye’s strategy in Africa began with bolstering trade and economic ties before seeking to provide military training and high-end Turkish weapons systems.

“Turkiye recently constructed Istanbul-class frigates for its naval forces exemplifying the country’s expanding maritime prowess extending from Istanbul to the Gulf of Aden without requiring refueling stops,” he said.

Turkiye also took part in the multinational Combined Task Force 151 to prevent piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. Turkiye took command of the task force six times.

“Turkish Naval Forces have shown a high effectiveness and even in instances where Turkiye didn’t commit ships, its commanders were preferred due to their intimate understanding of regional challenges,” said Guvenc.

Despite acknowledging the strategic significance of the deal, experts caution that its implementation demands substantial investment and logistical capabilities from Turkiye.

“In 2014, Turkish Naval Forces started its circumnavigation of Africa and toured the continent twice. But this time, Turkiye needs to double and maybe triple its naval forces for effective outreach across the vast region,” Guvenc said.

“Overseas bases give countries a significant prestige and put them among countries which have outreach to the remote regions of the world. It is a key indicator for the power hierarchies because it means that the country is able to project strategic power from its naval influence,” he added.

However, Guvenc sees some “political” risks with the deal.

“Turkiye has traditionally refrained from taking part in intra-African conflicts. It has always taken a standing that was above conflicts. But it remains to be seen to what extent it could safeguard Somali interests by force or whether it would have to be involved in local conflicts. It is also technically difficult to protect the exclusive economic zone of Somalia which intersects with issues like illegal fishing activities and potential clashes with other nations in the region,” he said.


Hamas awaiting new truce proposal from mediators’ talks with Israel

Updated 23 February 2024
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Hamas awaiting new truce proposal from mediators’ talks with Israel

  • Mediators ramp up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on Rafah

CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Hamas wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and is now waiting to see what mediators bring back from weekend talks with Israel, an official from the militant group said on Friday, in what appears to be the most serious push for weeks to halt the fighting.

Mediators have ramped up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

An Israeli delegation led by the head of the country’s overseas intelligence agency arrived in Paris on Friday to “unblock” talks for a ceasefire in Gaza, an Israeli official said.

Mossad director David Barnea will be joined in the French capital by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.

Israel says it will attack the city if no truce agreement is reached soon. Washington has called on its close ally not to do so, warning of vast civilian casualties if an assault on the city goes ahead.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this past week on his first visit since December. Israel is now expected to participate in talks this weekend in Paris with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Two Egyptian security sources confirmed that Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel would head on Friday to Paris for the talks with the Israelis, after wrapping up talks with Hamas chief Haniyeh on Thursday. Israel has not publicly commented on the Paris talks.

The Hamas official, who asked not to be identified, said the militant group did not offer any new proposal at the talks with the Egyptians, but was waiting to see what the mediators brought back from their upcoming talks with the Israelis.

“We discussed our proposal with them (the Egyptians) and we are going to wait until they return from Paris,” the Hamas official said.

The last time similar talks were held in Paris, at the start of February, they produced an outline for the first extended ceasefire of the war, approved by Israel and the United States. Hamas responded with a counterproposal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then rejected as “delusional.”

Hamas, which is still believed to be holding more than 100 hostages seized in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that precipitated the war, says it will free them only as part of a truce that ends with an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel says it will not pull out until Hamas is eradicated.

Late on Thursday, Netanyahu presented his security cabinet with an official plan for Gaza once the fighting stops. He emphasized that Israel expects to maintain security control over the enclave after destroying Hamas, and also sees no role for there for the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank.

Washington favors a role for a reformed PA.

Two Palestinian officials familiar with the negotiations said Hamas has not changed its stance in the latest push to reach a deal, and still demands that a truce end with an Israeli pullout.

RAFAH UNDER FIRE

Israeli planes and tanks pounded areas across Gaza Strip overnight, residents and health officials said. The Gaza health ministry said 104 people had been killed and 160 others were wounded in Israeli military strikes in the past 24 hours.

In Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering, an Israeli air strike on a house killed 10 people. Several other air strikes hit throughout the city, worsening fears by the displaced people of expanded Israeli ground operations.

At a morgue in Rafah, a family knelt by the body of their child, killed by overnight Israeli strikes. They tenderly touched and stroked the small body through a shroud.

Airstrikes also killed civilians overnight in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza, one of the few other areas yet to be stormed by the Israelis. In video obtained by Reuters, bereaved families crowded a hospital, where Ahmed Azzam held up the body of his dead baby son wrapped in a shroud, shouting: “You killed them Netanyahu. You killed this innocent child!“

At least 29,514 Palestinians have been killed and 69,616 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct.7, the Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Israel launched its months-long military campaign after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct 7.

In a summary of its operations in Gaza over the past 24 hours, the Israeli military said it had killed dozens of militants, located weapons and destroyed infrastructure in Khan Younis, western Khan Younis, central Gaza and Zaytoun in the north, where it also uncovered tunnel shafts.


Hezbollah says 2 paramedics, fighter dead in Israeli strike on Lebanon

Updated 23 February 2024
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Hezbollah says 2 paramedics, fighter dead in Israeli strike on Lebanon

  • Israeli army said late Thursday it had struck a Hezbollah “military compound” in south Lebanon’s Blida

Beirut: Two paramedics affiliated with Hezbollah and one of the group’s fighters have been killed in an Israeli strike on a south Lebanon border village, the group and a security source said Friday.
The Israeli army said late Thursday it had struck a Hezbollah “military compound” in south Lebanon’s Blida, amid near-daily cross-border fire between the arch foes since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.
The Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Committee said two of its paramedics were killed in a “direct” Israeli attack on a civil defense center in Blida, while Hezbollah also announced the death of one of its fighters.
The Islamic Health Committee said the attack caused “the destruction of the health center as well as a number of ambulances.”
The Lebanese security source, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said a strike on Thursday “targeted the Islamic Health Committee center in the village of Blida.”
The Israeli army said late Thursday that it had identified fighters “entering a Hezbollah military compound in the area of Blida.”
“Fighter jets were scrambled and struck the compound where the terrorists were identified,” it said in a statement.
Hezbollah said it launched a drone attack on northern Israel on Friday in retaliation for strikes “on southern villages and civilian houses, most recently the attack on a civil defense center in Blida.”
The night before, the Iran-backed group said it fired rockets at an Israeli barracks in response to the Blida attack, but did not announced any casualties at the time.
The violence on Israel’s northern border has sparked fears of another full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah like that of 2006.
Last month, the Shiite Muslim movement said an Israeli strike killed two affiliated medics in south Lebanon’s Hanin, calling it a “blatant attack.”
The Lebanese group, which says it is acting in support of its ally Hamas, on Thursday had already announced rocket fire on Israel after two of its fighters were killed, later calling one of them a “commander” in a funeral notice.
The security source said one of the two killed in an Israeli drone strike in south Lebanon’s Kfar Rumman was involved in the movement’s “rocket capabilities.”
Since October, at least 276 people have been killed on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 44 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.


Sudan’s warring sides commit abuses, including strikes on fleeing civilians, UN report says

Updated 23 February 2024
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Sudan’s warring sides commit abuses, including strikes on fleeing civilians, UN report says

  • Efforts have so far failed to end the 10-month-old conflict that pits Sudan’s regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces

GENEVA: Both sides in Sudan’s civil war have committed abuses that may amount to war crimes including indiscriminate attacks on civilian sites like hospitals, markets and even camps for the displaced, the UN human rights office said on Friday.
Efforts have so far failed to end the 10-month-old conflict that pits Sudan’s regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Thousands of people have been killed and over six million forced to flee their homes, making it the country with the largest displaced population in the world.
“Some of these violations would amount to war crimes,” Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement accompanying the report. “The guns must be silenced, and civilians must be protected.”
The US has already formally determined that the warring parties have committed war crimes and said the RSF and allied militias were involved in ethnic cleansing in West Darfur. Both sides have said they would investigate reports of killings and abuses and prosecute any fighters found to be involved.
The United Nations report covers the April-December period and is based on interviews with over 300 victims and witnesses as well as footage and satellite imagery.
It says that sometimes those fleeing for their lives or displaced by the violence became victims of explosive weapons attacks.
In one incident, dozens of displaced people were killed when their camp in Zalingei, Darfur was shelled by RSF between Sept. 14-17, the report said. Some 26 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed on Aug. 22 by shells reportedly fired by the Sudanese Armed Forces while sheltering under a bridge.
The report also says the RSF had adopted a military strategy of using human shields, citing testimonies of victims involved.
It describes incidents in the capital Khartoum where dozens of individuals were arrested and placed outside near RSF military posts to deter air strikes from Sudanese fighter jets.
UN investigators have so far documented cases of sexual violence affecting 118 people, including one women who was detained and repeatedly gang-raped for weeks. Many of the rapes were committed by RSF members, it said.
Reuters has also documented cases of gang rape in ethnically targeted attacks by RSF forces and allied Arab militia.
The war erupted last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the RSF under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition toward civilian rule and free elections.