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Sudan: West Darfur governor reportedly killed in captivity

Sudanese army say Khamis Abakar was killed by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which denies the claim
Khamis Abakar (left) was a rebel commander in Darfur during the conflict in the state, which only ended in 2020 (Tony Karumba/AFP)
Khamis Abdullah Abakar (left) was a rebel commander in Darfur during the conflict in the state, which only ended in 2020 (Tony Karumba/AFP)

The Sudanese military has accused the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of killing the governor of West Darfur state in captivity, an accusation the RSF denies.

Khamis ِAbdullah Abakar is the most senior figure to be killed since battles rampaged Sudanese cities since April.

The details of his alleged death are still unclear but came hours after he delivered a television interview in which he highlighted the widespread killings in West Darfur's state capital El-Geneina, accusing the RSF of committing genocide. 

"Civilians are being killed randomly and in large numbers," Abakar said on Wednesday, before he was reportedly captured. 

On Facebook, the Sudanese army, which has been battling the RSF since 15 April, condemned Abakar's killing, and said that he was "not involved in the conflict between the armed forces and the rebels".

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Two Sudanese government sources also confirmed the governor's death to Reuters, and said the RSF was responsible. 

However on Thursday, the RSF said it had no part in Abakar's death, adding he was killed by "two outlaws".

In a tweet, the RSF said "we point the finger directly" at intelligence services linked to the military that it claimed was igniting tribal war in West Darfur.

RSF added that Abakar came to them asking for their protection and that he was taken to a government office in El-Geneina, before rioters stormed the place, kidnapped Abakar and killed him.

El-Geneina is close to Sudan's border with Chad, and it is under the control of the RSF, which had been calling for international flights to resume to El-Geneina airport to provide humanitarian aid to West Darfur's residents.

In a video verified by MEE, Abakar is shown being manhandled by RSF fighters and the group's West Darfur major-general Abdulrahman Gomaa, who appears behind Abakar before he disappears into a building in El-Geneina.

Abakar would reportedly be killed hours later, and graphic footage appearing to show him lying dead on the ground and being kicked in his bloodied face has emerged.

More than 1,000 killed

Abakar headed a faction within the Sudanese Liberation Movement, which fought the military and Arab militias (including what would become the RSF) during Darfur's two-decade, on-off conflict.

In 2021, he signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government, becoming governor of West Darfur in its wake.

From the 1990s, Abakar had played an important role in the battles in Darfur. In 1998, he formed a combat force to respond to the burning of 60 villages belonging to al-Masalit tribes by Arab bedouins.

He then became the deputy head of the Sudan Liberation Movement, an active force in Darfur, after he escaped imprisonment under the government of former president Omar al-Bashir, in 2003.

 The Sudanese Alliance he formed recruited fighters from the al-Masalit people, who saw their relatives flee to Chad and El-Geneina during the civil war in West Darfur.

His death is the latest escalation in Sudan's conflict, which broke out over plans to fold the RSF into the military. 

'If verified, these attacks could amount to crimes against humanity'

- Volker Perthes, UN envoy to Sudan

Fighting has raged in the capital Khartoum as well as in Darfur, where the militia the RSF grew out of, the Janjaweed, was notorious for its bloody targeting of civilians, particularly non-Arabs. Some 300,000 people are believed to have died in the Darfur conflict, the majority between 2003 and 2005.

Around 1,100 people have been killed in El-Geneina since the start of the fighting in April, activists say. 

Volker Perthes, the UN envoy to Sudan, said on Tuesday that "there is an emerging pattern of targeted attacks against civilians on an ethnic basis" in El-Geneina, "allegedly committed by Arab militias and some men in RSF uniform". 

Perthes, who was declared persona non grata by the Sudanese military over his perceived closeness to the head of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, said: "If verified, these attacks could amount to crimes against humanity."

Before his death, Abakar had also criticised the army for failing to stop RSF attacks in El-Geneina. 

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