UN: Most Sudan rebels and neighbors back Darfur peace hope

U.N. experts say most rebel groups and all of Sudan’s neighbors except Libya support the peace process in Darfur

UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. experts say most rebel groups and all of Sudan’s neighbors except Libya support the peace process in Darfur but local security incidents in that troubled western region have increased, ranging from rapes to clashes between farmers and herders.

The panel's report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Monday also pointed to militia attacks on civilians, violent protests and tensions in major camps where hundreds of thousands of displaced Darfuris have lived for years. It also noted clashes between the government and the remaining rebel holdout group, the Sudan Liberation Army faction headed by Abdul Wahid Elnur.

The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing Sudan's Arab-dominated government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies. Last April, a popular uprising led the military to overthrow autocratic President Omar al-Bashir after nearly three decades in power.

A military-civilian government now running the country has put Sudan on a fragile path to democracy but Elnur’s rebel group and its supporters accuse the transitional government of hijacking the revolution.

One of the transitional government’s key priorities has been ending the insurgencies in Sudan’s far-flung provinces, including Darfur, and it has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups since October.

On a key human rights issue, the panel of experts reported that at “farms and locations near camps for internally displaced persons, incidents of rape and physical assault of women, girls and boys were widely reported by local sources” between March and December 2019.

Survivors described the perpetrators as groups of armed men, mostly herders, as well as some members of Sudan’s security forces. In most cases, the report said, perpetrators who were identified were not arrested.

In one incident, in Tabit in North Darfur on June 28, three men on camels attacked a man, a women and two teen-age girls, the panel said. The man and woman, both in their 40s, were beaten and chased away and the girls were then beaten and raped, with one assailant mutilating the genitals of the 18-year-old, it said.

In a widely disseminated video, local activists showed two girls aged 11 and 13 narrating their ordeal after being raped in Nertiti in Central Darfur by men they identified through their uniforms and insignia as members of the Rapid Support Forces, the panel said.

These forces have their roots in Sudan's Janjaweed militias that torched villages, killing and raping civilians especially in the early years of the Darfur conflict.

The panel said statistics from confidential government sources indicated 120 case files of rapes and sexual violence between April and September 2019, though it said the figures are likely to be on the low side because of social barriers to reporting rape cases.

“The patterns of incidents are indicative that rape is increasingly used in the fight between nomads and farmers over access to land in several areas in Darfur,” the experts said.

Looking at Sudan’s neighbors, the experts said that “the regional dynamics remained largely positive and favorable to the peace process in Darfur, except for in Libya,” which is gripped by its own conflict that has drawn in some Darfurian fighters.

The experts added, however, that “the panel has no credible evidence of the presence of Rapid Support Forces in Libya,” despite Libyan and other media outlets reporting to the contrary.

The panel said that between March and December, Elnur’s grip on his Sudan Liberation Army faction and its support among displaced Darfuris “were both significantly eroded.”

But the experts said the group’s finances were strengthened by its exploitation of the Torroye gold mine in its Jebel Marra stronghold, which has financed significant improvements in its military capabilities. According to miners interviewed by the panel, Elnur’s rebel group is collecting approximately 25% of the revenues generated by the miners.