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Sudan deploys army to quell tribal clashes in Kassala and South Darfur

Some in the transitional government accuse Bashir loyalists of being behind the violence
Hundreds of RSF troops were on the ground in South Darfur state following the deadly clashes between Al Raziqat and Al Falata tribes (AFP)
By Mohammed Amin in Khartoum

Sudan has vowed to step up efforts to stop the spread of tribal violence, after dozens of people were killed this month in clashes in South Darfur and the eastern city of Kassala.

In the latest incident, three people were killed and 79 others were wounded when members of the Beni Amir and Nuba tribes clashed in Kassala, officials said on Sunday. The two tribes also had a series of clashes in 2019.

Last week, fighting between the Arab tribe Al Raziqat and African tribe Al Falata left at least 30 people dead. A local source said the clash was sparked by a dispute over stolen livestock.

On Monday, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok described the Kassala incident as “regrettable” and called for a radical approach to establish peace amongst tribes in across the country.

"The tribal conflict that is taking place in some areas of our dear country requires radical treatment through a clear and holistic approach for a comprehensive peace, as well as the speeding up selection of civilian governors, and establishing of mechanisms for judicial accountability in such incidents,” Hamdok said in a series of tweets.

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The army and other regular forces had been sent to eastern Sudan to resolve the situation, said Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council.

“We are very worried about this social and tribal troubles that is actually targeting the unity of our people and our revolution, but we would never allow this destabilisation to continue. We have ordered all the regular forces to put an end to all this chaos,” he said in a national address on Monday.

The Sudanese Sovereign Council, which took power in August and comprises five military and six civilian representatives, is scheduled to guide the country through to elections in November 2022.

Hamdok, Sudan's first civilian prime minister in three decades following the toppling of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir, leads a military-civilian transitional government for a transitional period due to last until the next elections.

Burhan and some other government officials have hinted that the “deep state of the former regime” was behind the tribal clashes intended to destabilise the country’s transitional period.

The former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has denied the accusations.

Conflicting accounts

An activist in Kassala state also suspected the clashes were intended to destabilise the country, and was part of a coordinated effort by those loyal to the former government.

Thouiba Hashim Galad said the government had deployed forces on the ground to keep peace between the two tribes following the Kassala clashes.

“We know that there are military reinforcements from the RSF, who are coming from Khartoum to back the forces here,” she told MEE.

The RSF - Rapid Support Forces - is a paramilitary organisation that had long been considered loyal to Bashir and the government.

Hashim Galad added that, according to her sources, “people with uniforms were burning the houses of the Beni Amir”.

“It looks something intentionally organised,” Hashim said. 

An eyewitness from the Nuba tribe told MEE that they did not like to fight with “our brothers, the Beni Amir”, adding that efforts were being made to diffuse the tension.

“We are still waiting for the forces to contain this troubles, but we do believe that a third party is behind it,” he said, requesting to stay anonymous.

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Meanwhile, hundreds of RSF troops were on the ground in South Darfur state following the deadly clashes between Al Raziqat and Al Falata tribes.

The RSF deputy chairman, Abdul Rahim Dagalo, accused a third party of involvement in the conflict there, stressing that the two tribes had had a long history of coexistence.

“We have sent military reinforcements to the state including 300 four-wheel drive vehicles in order to contain the situation, and we can say that the situation is calm now,” he said in a public address in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state on Saturday.

No rule of law

A Sudanese scholar has attributed the roots of the tribal conflicts to the entire political and economic situation in the region, along with the continuous competition over resources. 

Mohamed Badawi, who is a researcher at the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), told MEE that an absence of several key social components - the policing, implementation of the rule of law, freedom of expression and public awareness against tribal polarisation - has paved the way for the current troubles.

“The clashes between Falata and Raziqat erupted for very individual reasons, but the lack of rule of law, economic deterioration and rumours on social media are all factors that provide a conducive atmosphere for the spread of the tribal conflicts.

“So unless the government will address all these together, the insecurity will continue,” Badawi said.

However, suggestions like stronger policing could allow the RSF to gain more control, not just in Darfur but also in eastern Sudan and other regions, warned political analyst Adam Mahdi.

'The participation of the RSF in the handling of the tribal clashes is a problem in itself, because the discipline and tribal affiliation of these forces is questioned'

- Adam Mahdi, analyst

Further complicating the matter, some in the Falata tribe had already accused several RSF members of having affiliations with the Raziqat tribe, he told MEE.

“The participation of the RSF in the handling of the tribal clashes is a problem in itself, because the discipline and tribal affiliation of these forces is questioned,” said Mahdi, who’s based in Darfur.

Following the spike in tribal clashes, the government decided to begin a nationwide weapons confiscation campaign, taking arms away from the hands of civilians. 

Hemeti, the leader of the RSF and deputy chairman of the Sovereign Council, who is the brother of RSF deputy chairman Abdul Rahim Dagalo, has earned a reputation as a ruthless commander and a loyal servant to deposed president Bashir.

Now portraying himself as a man of the people, Hemeti used to be a commander of Arab militias that were later transformed into the RSF and were accused by human rights groups of genocide in the Darfur war that began in 2003. Bashir’s government denied the allegations.

His track record would make the weapons confiscation a tall order, especially in regions like Darfur, said Mahdi.

“It’d be impossible to collect the weapons (from civilians) unless the forces, including the RSF, should be committed and disciplined,” Mahdi concluded.

RSF paramilitary forces are currently deployed in several states in eastern Sudan as well as along the border with Eritrea.

While Sudan’s geopolitics - sharing borders with Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea and having long coastlines and many ports - is very important for regional stability, the government should focus on its people first, said analyst Khalid Mohamed Taha, who specialises in Eastern Sudan issues.

“To address the root causes of these problems, we have to firstly look at the domestic problems, and we have to consider the principle of equal citizenship in Sudan to avoid any more splits of the country,” said Taha.

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