Darfur movements: “We renounce our neutrality”
Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement threaten RSF
The former Darfur rebel movements today took a step toward entering the war, announcing that they are no longer neutral and warning they are ready to fight on the side of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) against the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
At a press conference Friday afternoon in Port Sudan headed by the Sudan Liberation Movement leader Minni Minawi and the Justice and Equality Movement leader Jibril Ibrahim, the movements read out a statement accusing the RSF of carrying out ethnic killings, looting, rape, burning villages, occupying houses, and abducting women.
“In the face of these practices, crimes against humanity, and blatant violations of human rights, including the right to life, which are considered acts hostile to the homeland and the citizenry, therefore we declare our departure from neutrality, and we strongly condemn these violations by these militias and declare our strong resistance to these practices.”
The statement proposed an “immediate and permanent ceasefire.” It can be considered either as an ultimatum to the RSF to stop the war, or as an outright declaration of war against the RSF.
The statement says, “In the light of the threat to Sudan’s unity, the militia's repeated attack on cities and villages and assault on unarmed citizens, and under the current threat on humanitarian and commercial convoys by attempting to cut off supply routes to cities and regions, all these developments make us renounce any neutrality and announce our participation in military operations in all fronts with no hesitation.”
In particular, the statement signals the unwillingness of the former rebels to tolerate an attack by the RSF in El Fasher, home of the 6th Division headquarters, the last remaining army base in the Darfur region. The city is a stronghold of the former rebels. Fighting there could displace tens of thousands of people.
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Jibril Ibrahim, the JEM leader and Sudan’s finance minister, said, “We are present in El Fasher and we will protect it from looting and killing.
The Port Sudan press conference coincides with reports of the arrival of Abdelrahim Dagalo, deputy commander-in-chief of the RSF, in El Fasher. Dagalo previously oversaw attacks against SAF garrisons in Nyala, Zalingei, and Ardamata. Dagalo’s arrival in al-Fasher could signal an imminent attack on the base there.
The press conference also coincides with an announcement by the RSF that Dagalo and other top RSF commanders in Darfur met with field commanders of the Darfur movements, including Lt Gen Salih Osman Jabel Si of SLM-Transitional Council, Lt Gen Abood from the Sudan Liberation Forces Alliance, Maj Gen Gabir Ishaq of SLM (Minawi faction), and Maj Gen Hamid Iddris Gazam of JEM.
The RSF press statement claims that the parties “reached a consensus” on a number of points, including joint efforts to ensure security in the region, “especially in El Fasher,” formation of a joint force, and safeguarding humanitarian and relief convoys.
However, the political leaders of the movements, speaking at the press conference in Port Sudan, denied the existence of any deal with the RSF. “We did not agree with Rapid Support Forces on any arrangements and we will fight against the insurgency to protect Sudanese citizens everywhere, not only Darfur,” said Jibril Ibrahim.
For his part, Minawi stressed that they had attempted to stop the war from breaking out and had supported efforts to resolve it through negotiations. He mentioned various crimes of the RSF including the killing of the West Darfur governor, and the entry of RSF forces into displaced camps in Zalingei and killings there. He considered these as violations of the Juba Agreement by the RSF.
Minawi said that he had a responsibility to intervene in the war to protect the security of Darfur and the nation, and the wellbeing of the citizens.
Hitherto many of the Juba Peace signatories have stayed on the sidelines of the fighting between the army and the RSF, though some of their top leaders continued to hold positions in government under the terms of the 2020 agreement.
These neutral groups include SLM (led by Minawi), JEM (led by Jibril Ibrahim), and the Gathering of Sudan Liberation Force (led by al-Tahir Hajar).
In spite of their stated neutrality, some members of these groups have died in ambushes, clashes, or targeted killings. Minawi said today that they had lost 50 men since the outbreak of the war. Nevertheless, there have not been major clashes between the RSF and the Joint Force led by Minawi, which also includes JEM troops.
Some other Juba peace signatories already entered the war on the side of SAF, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (North) led by Malik Agar and the Sudan Liberation Movement faction of Mustafa Tambour.
After today’s press conference, GSLF leader Al Tahir Hajar said that the statements by Minawi and Jibril do not represent his movement, and they are still neutral.