Mining fuels renewed Darfur conflict

Intensified fighting since January has resulted in a rapidly worsening security situation and large-scale displacement in Sudan’s Darfur region, the top United Nations peacekeeping official warned April 6. UN Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous said that since his last briefing to the Security Council on Jan. 25, the security situation in Darfur has been characterized by fighting between government forces and militants of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW) in the Jebel Marra region. "The escalation of fighting in Jebel Marra had led to large-scale displacement, especially from mid-January to late March, and humanitarian organizations estimated that at least 138,000 people from that region were newly displaced as of 31 March," Ladsous stated. (UN News Centre, April 6)

The news comes as Russia is blocking release of an internal UN report that apparently shows how pro-government militias in Darfur are making some $54 million per year in gold mining. The annual report to the Security Council sanctions committee by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur was presented in December, but has not been made public due to objections from Moscow. Russian deputy ambassador Petr Iliichev argued that the panel's mandate does not include monitoring "natural resources."

In the report, obtained by AFP news agency, the panel said it found evidence that informal gold mines in the Jebel Amir region were controlled by the pro-government Abbala Armed Group (AAG), led by Sheikh Musa Hilal, who has been under UN sanctions since 2006. A "substantial portion of the gold mined at Jebel Amir Mines" is first sent to El Geneina, Darfur and then taken to Khartoum by air, before being illegally exported to the United Arab Emirates, the report states. "The panel is thus almost certain that the AAG has an income of $54 million per annum, based on lower case estimates." The panel called for the Security Council ask Khartoum to take steps to ensure that gold and other minerals from Darfur are "conflict-free." (France24, Reuters, April 5)