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Sudan Army chief's mobilisation call divides opinion

Civil society groups reject call to join armed forces warning it will only extend the conflict
Muslim worshippers listen to the Eid Al-Adha prayer sermon in Sudan's eastern Gedaref region, on 28 June 2023 (AFP)

A call by the head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) for mass mobilisation against his rivals in the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has divided opinion across the conflict-ridden country.

In a speech late on Tuesday, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said the young and all those who were capable should not "hesitate or delay in playing this national role in their place of residence or by joining the armed forces".

His speech, which has been interpreted as indicating his forces could be losing ground to the RSF just over two months since their conflict began, received a mixed reaction.

Pro-democracy and civil society groups, who largely view Burhan as the head of a coup government since he seized power in July 2021, were less than impressed.

"We have nothing to do with the war that Burhan is calling for," said one member of a resistance committee.

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He said there was nothing to be gained in supporting either the army or the RSF, whose leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo - better known as Hemeti - aided the July 2021 coup.

“We are basically standing against the two warring parties and believe that they are part of the counter-revolution and they just have a conflict of interests currently," said the resistance committee member, who spoke anonymously as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"We declared our position clearly even before this war erupted and raised our slogans: SAF have to go back to their barracks and the Janjaweed have to be dissolved," he added, using a term for the RSF that references their origins in the mid-2000s Darfur conflict.

Fighting since April has killed thousands of people, while according to estimates from the International Organisation for Migration published on Tuesday, almost 2.8 million people have so far been displaced.

More than 2.15 million have been internally displaced and nearly 650,000 have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries.

Amged Farid, the deputy chief of staff in the office of the former Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok - who was ousted in October 2021 - said he believed Burhan's call was irresponsible and that there should be a drawing down of the violence.

“Any intention to extend this war and call for youth to join it is an extension of the military ruling and the coup that was committed against the civilian government in October 2021 by both sides of the current war," he told MEE.

"This also give an indication that the current military institution is not just in need of a reformation but moreover needs reconstruction as after more than 70 days the Sudanese Armed Forces has failed to defeat this militia that was created by the army in previous times."

An 'existential' threat?

A number of observers have argued that Burhan has faced pressure within his own ranks from Islamist groups linked to the administration of Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019 in a popular uprising.

Islamist political figures publicly welcomed Burhan's call for mobilisation, while one former senior official in Bashir's now-dissolved National Congress Party (NCP) told MEE that his country needed to push back against an "existential" threat.

"The call for armament that sent by Burhan on Tuesday is a matter that the majority of the Sudanese are waiting and calling for in order to defend themselves, families, properties, dignity, and the sovereignty of our state,” the source who preferred not to be named for security reasons told MEE. 

'We are against the extension of this war as it only serving the interests of the two warring parties and will increase the suffering of our people under the violations of the two sides, especially the RSF'

- Moniegm Algash, White Banner Initiative

He said the RSF was part of an "external conspiracy" against his country and wanted to "erase Sudan from the map".

"So, any tolerance with them is treason. I'm sure that the Sudanese will respond positively to this declaration,” he concluded.

Last month, the army asked retired SAF officers to return to their military units and fight against the RSF. 

The same month, the governor of the troubled region of Darfur Mini Arko Minawi called on the citizens of the region to arm and defend themselves against attacks by the RSF.

One retired military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the army had a gap in its ground forces that needed to be filled to combat the RSF's ground capabilities. 

At the same time, Burhan is facing both popular and internal pressure to step up his campaign against the group.

“Burhan is aiming at mitigating the pressure he is facing from the radical groups within the army and the Muslim Brotherhood," said the officer.

"He also wants to increase his popularity, exploiting the wide violations RSF has committed against the civilians in Khartoum or at least to get strong excuses for more use of airstrikes against the RSF who are hiding themselves inside the crowded neighborhoods."

'End the war and bring peace'

Despite the announcement of "unilateral" ceasefires to mark the religious festival of Eid al-Adha on Wednesday, fighting was still reported across the country.

Bodies have been left to rot in the streets of Sudanese cities, while in Darfur province there have been reports of brutality against civilians and widespread sexual violence.

In Sudan’s el-Geneina, the dead are left lying in the streets
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Amongst all this, supporters of the democracy movement are desperate to see an end to the violence and resist any escalation.

To this end, civil society campaigners formed the White Banner Initiative, which has called for the raising of white flags across the country to create pressure for the ending of the war and create a popular campaign for peace in Sudan. 

"We are against the extension of this war as it only serves the interests of the two warring parties and will increase the suffering of our people under the violations of the two sides, especially the RSF” said Moniegm Algash, the initiative's spokesperson.

“We are trying by all our capacity to end the war and bring peace that can lead to retrieve the civil democratic ruling, so we are principally against the war and we reject this tactic by Burhan to extend the war.”

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