Darfur: arms flow continues, Janjaweed fractures

An Aug. 24 Amnesty International press release claimed new photo evidence showing that the Sudanese government continues to deploy offensive military equipment in Darfur, despite the UN arms embargo. “Once again Amnesty International calls on the UN Security Council to act decisively to ensure the embargo is effectively enforced, including by the placement of UN observers at all ports of entry in Sudan and Darfur,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s Arms Control Research Manager.

The photographs, sent to AI and the International Peace Information Service by eyewitnesses in Darfur, reinforce evidence provided in AI’s May 2007 report: “Sudan: Arms continuing to fuel serious human rights violations in Darfur.” The photos were taken in July at El Geneina airport in Darfur. One shows containers being offloaded by Sudanese army soldiers from an Antonov aircraft onto military trucks. The Russian-supplied Antonov 12 freighter aircraft with registration number ST-ASA is listed as operated by Azza Transport, itself under investigation by the UN Panel of Experts on the Sudan arms embargo.

AI says it has received reports of helicopters delivering arms to militias allied to the government, and of the continued deployment of attack helicopters. Russia signed a deal to supply at least 15 general military helicopters (Mi-17s) during 2005 and 2006 and also supplied 12 attack helicopters (Mi-24s) in 2005. Thousands of displaced villagers have fled the Jebel Moon/Sirba area in West Darfur after attacks by Janjaweed and government forces on areas under control of the guerillas. Local people said the forces were supplied by helicopters.

The Sudanese government continues to launch aerial attacks on civilians in Darfur. China supplied Fantan jets, carrying air-to-ground missiles, to Sudan until 2006.

In South Darfur, a Sudanese government Antonov aircraft carried out bombing raids in August after a guerilla attack on the town of Adila. They targeted villages and water sources. Antonov raids were also reported on Ta’alba, Habib Suleiman and Fataha. An Antonov capable of such raids was reportedly transferred from Russia to Sudan in September 2006.

Meanwhile, a Sept. 3 front-page New York Times story, “Chaos in Darfur on Rise as Arabs Fight Arabs,” states (emphasis added):

In the past several months, the Terjem and the Mahria, heavily armed Arab tribes that United Nations officials said raped and pillaged together as part of the region’s notorious janjaweed militias, have squared off in South Darfur, fighting from pickup trucks and the backs of camels. They are raiding each other’s villages, according to aid workers and the fighters themselves, and scattering Arab tribesmen into the same kinds of displacement camps that still house some of their earlier victims.

United Nations officials said that thousands of gunmen from each side, including some from hundreds of miles away, were pouring into a strategic river valley called Bulbul, while clashes between two other Arab tribes, the Habanniya and the Salamat, were intensifying farther south…

United Nations officials said tribal and factional fighting was killing more people than the battles between government and rebel forces, which, except in a few areas, have declined considerably. Though the recent round of clashes between the splintering groups has not come close to taking as many lives as the thousands who were dying each month during the height of the conflict in 2003 and 2004, many aid officials say they fear the situation is getting out of control.

“The fragmentation of armed groups is among our major concerns,” said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan. “This is making the situation even more complex, and more difficult for civilians as well as for humanitarians trying to help them.”

The rising insecurity is spelled out in two color-coded maps taped to Giuliano’s wall in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. One is from May 2006 and has only a few pockets of orange and yellow danger zones. But on the map from this June, the danger zones are everywhere. According to United Nations officials, the various militias may be jockeying for power and trying to seize turf before the long-awaited hybrid force of United Nations and African Union peacekeepers begins to arrive, perhaps later this year. Today’s battlefields are superimposed on yesterday’s, with the Arab militias killing each other over the same burned villages and stingy riverbeds where so much blood has already been spilled.

Though many Western diplomats and a seemingly endless supply of advocates have blamed the Sudanese government for arming Arab militias in the first place, an accusation the government denies, several independent observers in Sudan said the government was not driving this phase of the conflict.

“The government is no longer arming the janjaweed,” said Colonel James Oladipo, the African Union commander in Nyala, in South Darfur. The problem now, he said, is “bandits and factions.”

Some aid workers say Darfur is beginning to resemble Somalia, the world’s longest-running showcase for AK-47-fed chaos. Highwaymen in green camouflage — rebel fighters? local militia? janjaweed? — routinely flag down trucks and drag out passengers, robbing the men and sexually assaulting the women. Newly empowered warlords are exacting taxes. The galaxy of rebel armies — the Greater Sudan Liberation Movement, the Popular Forces Troops, the Sudan Democratic Group, to name a few new arrivals — keeps expanding, and ideology seems to fade away. Despite peace talks among them in early August, the rebels, who are mostly non-Arabs, are now also battling themselves.

Among Arabs, one of the most egregious examples of the recent infighting happened on the morning of July 31 near Sania Daleibah, in southern Darfur. Terjem leaders said that hundreds of Terjem had gathered to bury an important sheik. Then they were suddenly surrounded. It was Mahria tribesmen, and according to United Nations reports and witness accounts, the Mahria opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and belt-fed machine guns and mowed down more than 60 Terjem.

“It was a massacre,” said Mohammed Yacob Ibrahim Abdelrahman, the top Terjem leader. “By our brothers.”

Note that Amnesty and the Times take opposite tacks—state-sponsored genocide (although AI doesn’t actually use the G-word) versus a chaotic civil war (in which, presumably, outside intervention would be useless or worse). That the Times is now taking this tack may be another symptom of the sidelining of the neocons, and their hyper-interventionist agenda, in Washington.

See our last post on Darfur.