Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 14 September 2008

Khartoum’s patterns of violence in Darfur, 2008


"Chaos by Design": Khartoum’s Patterns of Violence in Darfur, 2008
Overview: the National Islamic Front regime continues to engage in
large-scale military assaults on civilian targets, including camps for
displaced persons; continues to abet violence throughout Darfur; and has established a clear record of attacking, or engineering attacks against, UNAMID peacekeepers; the Nuba Mountains may be next

By Eric Reeves

September 13, 2008 — It has become a wearingly familiar truism of “news” reporting and
commentary on Darfur: violence in the region is significantly different
from the large-scale, genocidal village destruction of 2003 through
early 2005. Of course it could hardly be otherwise: the strong
consensus among this writer’s informed contacts in the Darfuri
diaspora is that between 80 and 90 percent of all African villages have
been destroyed. More than 2.7 million people---overwhelmingly from
African (non-Arab) populations---have been displaced into camps within
Darfur or refugee sites in Eastern Chad. Agricultural production has
been radically compromised by pervasive insecurity, with extremely poor
harvests this past year in both South and North Darfur. The looting of
cattle and livestock is no longer as powerful an incentive for Janjaweed
militia precisely because of the ghastly successes of previous village

The world chiefly watched during this most violent phase of the Darfur
genocide, and did nothing of consequence to stop it. Instead, a small
number of African Union military observers were sent to Darfur in summer
2004 to monitor a non-existent cease-fire between rebel groups and
Khartoum. They occasionally released reports of the their
investigations, though more often did not. They were thoroughly
ineffectual---and they had no mandate to protect civilians.

The other element of international response to genocide in Darfur has
been to deploy a vast humanitarian aid operation---without
protection---into an environment that has grown increasingly insecure,
particularly over the past two and a half years. There can be little
question that this humanitarian operation, which began in earnest in
summer 2004, has saved hundreds of thousands of lives that would
otherwise have been lost. But as former UN humanitarian chief Jan
Egeland repeatedly warned, these humanitarians are working in an
environment that is intolerably insecure. It is extraordinary that so
many organizations have remained active and not withdrawn, though many
have now suspended all or part of their operations---and a growing
number have simply left because of insecurity. Virtually all, including
the International Committee of the Red Cross, have indicated explicitly
that there is a point at which they will suspend or terminate
humanitarian operations. Meanwhile, access to distressed populations
continues to drop, and both UN and nongovernmental humanitarian
organizations privately indicate they can reach fewer than 50 percent of
those in need except by expensive, hit-and-run helicopter transport.

Quite simply, violence has remained the defining feature of Darfur’s
brutalized landscape, even if it is a great deal more chaotic and less
easily characterized. The rebel movements have fractured badly in the
wake of the poorly conceived and disastrously consummated Darfur Peace
Agreement (Abuja, Nigeria; May 2006). Fighting between rebel groups, as
well as between Arab groups, has too often affected or targeted
civilians. Violence along ethnic lines has increased, both in the camps
and rural areas. Rebel groups have betrayed humanitarian efforts by
failing to provide adequate security, or claiming to provide security
that is beyond their military means. Some rebel elements and
regime-backed militia forces have also looted humanitarian convoys of
equipment and vehicles. And opportunistic banditry---much of it
countenanced, even orchestrated, by Khartoum---has had a devastating
effect on relief o
perations and movement on the ground. As one
well-informed UN official put the matter: “the vast majority of
attacks on humanitarians occur in main towns and state capitals---where
the Government of Sudan has absolute control. It is simply not in their
interests to improve security” (email received August 6, 2008).

It remains the case, however, that the largest and most destructive
source of violence, and consequent insecurity, remains the Khartoum
regime’s regular armed forces (the Sudan Armed Forces/SAF), its
security forces (particularly Military Intelligence), and its Janjaweed
militia allies. The regime continues its relentless bombing of civilian
targets, continues to attack rebel groups without any effort to
discriminate between civilian and military targets, and is unconstrained
by any sense of proportionality of response. Rebel sources, which have
in the main been accurate, have recently reported intense bombing in
much of North Darfur, including numerous villages. They also report
that Khartoum’s ground forces have attacked repeatedly in the areas
near Kutum, Disa and Bir Maza, and eastern Jebel Marra, reports
confirmed to the extent possible by the UN mission in Darfur. And a
major offensive has also been mounted in far northern North Darfur
(Concession Block 12A), with clear indications that this is in
preparation for oil exploration work by the Chinese near the
Darfur/Libyan border. Certainly the Chinese felt no compunctions about
working in the oil regions of southern Sudan during one of the most
violent phases of the north/south civil war (1997-2003).

[For an excellent and highly informed overview of Chinese and Arab
participation in this unconscionable extension of resource extraction
from Sudan during a period of intense conflict, see The Sudan Tribune,
July 9, 2008 (“Sudan talks to Chinese firms for help in Darfur oil
explorations,” at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article27781.]

Most consequentially, Khartoum has recently given strong evidence that
it intends to accelerate a primary policy goal of the past four years:
forcing displaced persons from the camps, especially those near the
major towns of Nyala, el-Fasher, and el-Geneina. The savage attack on
civilians in Kalma Camp near Nyala (August 25, 2008) killed scores (a
final death toll has yet to be firmly established) and wounded over 100.
A more recent attack (September 10, 2008) on ZamZam camp near el-Fasher
was undertaken by Khartoum’s security forces in armored vehicles.
Again there are reports of significant civilian casualties (see the
Sudan Tribune, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article28601).

These attacks on camps for Internally Displaced Persons have a grim
history that goes back three years now. In September 2005, in what were
then unprecedented acts, Khartoum’s SAF and Janjaweed militia allies
attacked an IDP camp in Tawilla (North Darfur) and the completely
undefended Aro Sharow IDP camp in West Darfur. As many as 5,000
displaced persons were forced to flee from Aro Sharow, dozens were
killed in the assault---and there were no consequences other that futile
criticism from the African Union in Darfur:

“On 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400
Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in
Aru Sharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also
indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the
attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead.
This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the
repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the
Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This
incident, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by
workers of humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations in
the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and
7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.”

“The following da
y, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed
combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military
and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in North Darfur. The Government
of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the
operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of
civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas
as well as some tents in the IDP camps.” (Transcript of press
conference by Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of
the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur, Khartoum, October 1,

In camps and towns, civilians---especially those thought to be too
visible in their support for the rebels or the International Criminal
Court in its investigation of atrocity crimes in Darfur---are subject to
continuing arrest, torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial
execution. Darfuris who are heard or seen to be giving revealing
accounts of conditions in Darfur are also beaten, raped, arrested, or
even killed. The level of fear in the camps, the overwhelming
atmosphere of intimidation, can be only partially conveyed. But the
lives of these people---many who have been in camps for five years
now---are defined by extreme insecurity and the most precarious
humanitarian sustenance. Most of these people are not living, they are
simply existing.

The Janjaweed remain Khartoum’s most potent military allies, and have
been implicated in many of the most violent episodes in 2008: the brutal
scorched-earth campaign north of el-Geneina in February; attacks on the
UN/African Union force (UNAMID), most consequentially the deadly July 8
attack in North Darfur; and most recently during the string of ground
and aerial attacks by regime forces in North Darfur and Jebel Marra
(launched by Khartoum after committing to a month-long Ramadan
cease-fire). There is overwhelming evidence of Khartoum’s continued
coordination with the Janjaweed, including providing these deadly
militia with advanced weaponry. The appointment of Musa Hilal to a
senior position in the regime in January 2008 (see my commentary in The
New Republic,
is only the most conspicuous sign of the regime’s determination to
retain the services of these notorious militia forces.

To be sure, the term “Janjaweed” has also evolved and broadened in
designation over the course of more than five years of conflict. An
excellent overview of the range of meanings is offered by Clea Kahn,
“Conflict, Arms, and Militarization: The Dynamics of Darfur’s IDP
Camps,” Small Arms Survey, September 2008, pages 13-14, at
But all accounts from the ground in Darfur make clear that the
Janjaweed, in their various forms---and frequently recycled into other
paramilitary forces controlled by Khartoum---continue to create
tremendous insecurity in and around many of Darfur’s camps for
displaced persons, and in rural areas. Many of these rural areas,
especially those with the most arable land, have been occupied by Arab
tribes from which the Janjaweed are drawn; indeed, this is the primary
form of payment that Khartoum has offered, and the lack of additional
land to seize has created tensions between various Arab tribal groups.
These tensions have been exacerbated by the presence of Arab groups from
Chad, Niger, even Mali.

The brutality of Khartoum’s violence against civilians, and its
immensely disruptive effects, is captured in recent examples cited by
Sima Samar, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan, in her
report of September 2, 2008:

“In another worrying example of a direct attack on civilian targets
by Government [of Sudan] forces, an attack on Tawilla by members of the
Central Reserve Police (CRP) on 12 May [2008] left the town completely
deserted. After
a CRP member was found dead inside the Rwanda Internally
Displaced Persons [IDPs] camp, CRP personnel responded by burning and
looting of huts and destroying the market. Approximately 20,000 people
from Tawilla town and the IDPs from Rwanda camp were forced to flee the
area. As of 22 July 2008, most have not returned to the area.
Representatives of the local community complained about killings,
violent assaults and rapes that occurred during the attack. No action
has been taken for accountability and justice.” (accessed at: General
Assembly, A/HRC/9/13, Report covering the period January to July 2008
[September 2, 2008])

[See the discussion below of the crisis in the Nuba Mountains for more
on the role of the Central Reserve Police.]

Special Rapporteur Samar’s report also makes clear the threat to
civilians from the air:

“In the first three weeks of July 2008 there were 21 separate
incidents of aerial bombardment. The air strikes were carried out by the
Government of Sudan with Antonov aircrafts and MIG fighter jets.
Reportedly, the strikes impacted in the vicinity of civilian communities
and allegedly resulted in the deaths of 12 persons, including 5 women
and 2 children. The United Nations received further reports that
civilian objects, in particular cultivated land and livestock, were also

These attacks, as well as large-scale offensives such as that north of
el-Geneina in February of this year, have sustained massive human
displacement throughout 2008. The UN’s most recent Darfur
Humanitarian Profile (No. 32, page 4, at
http://www.unsudanig.org/library/profile/index.php) estimates that
as of July 1, 2008 more than 200,000 people had been newly displaced
this year alone---a rate of more than 1,000 human beings per day. The
fate of many of these displaced persons is almost certain death. During
the current series of offensive military moves in North Darfur, Khartoum
has displaced many thousands of civilians. In the aftermath of one
attack, near Kutum (North Darfur), Reuters reports ([dateline:
Khartoum], September 7, 2008):

“Fighters from two factions of the insurgent Sudan Liberation Army
(SLA) said fighting had taken place in the same area on Saturday
[September 6, 2008], as well as around two settlements about 150km
north, close to the town of Kutum. ‘The shooting has started again
now,’ said Ibrahimal-Helwu, from the branch of the Sudan Liberation
Movement (SLM) led by Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, claiming the
government was using attack helicopters and Antonov aircraft.
‘Hundreds of civilians are fleeing into the desert or the forests.
It is going to be bad for them there because there is no shelter.’”

Khartoum of course denies all such attacks, but tellingly refuses to
allow access to investigators from the UN/African Union “hybrid”
mission (UNAMID):

“On Saturday [September 6, 2008] [a spokesman for UNAMID] said
government forces stopped a UNAMID patrol from entering the area
south-west of El Fasher where the rebels claimed fighting took place on
Saturday and Sunday [September 7, 2008].” (Reuters [dateline:
Khartoum], September 7, 2008)

This denial of access to UNAMID investigators by Khartoum’s security
forces was also reported by humanitarian workers at Kalma Camp for
displaced persons on the morning of the brutal August 25 attack against
civilians. A clear pattern of denied access has been in evidence since
the UN took command of the Darfur mission on January 1, 2008---a
continuation of Khartoum’s treatment of investigators from the African
Union mission in Sudan, which was in fact simply re-hatted with “UN
blue” to make up UNAMID.

This is only one factor that should give pause to those blaming or
attributing current violence in Darfur to the July 14, 2008 accusation
made by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno
Ocampo. On the basis of more than two years of detailed investigation
(authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1593, March 2005), Ocampo
harged National Islamic Front (National Congress Party) President Omar
al-Bashir with genocide and crimes against humanity. And as Ocampo
rightly insists in his appeal to a three-judge ICC panel for an arrest
warrant, even after the cataclysm of ethnically-targeted violence in the
first years of the Darfur conflict, Khartoum has consistently used
violence for genocidal purposes. It is also important to note that
beyond the crimes Ocampo charges, attacks on UNAMID have been committed
over the course of 2008 (see below), certainly well before ICC actions
were mooted as “explanation” of Khartoum’s violence.


The violence and insecurity that have been so relentlessly orchestrated
by Khartoum has put millions of vulnerable Darfuris at continual risk.
The UN’s Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 32 (conditions as of July 1,
2008) estimates that more than 4.5 million civilians are in need of
humanitarian assistance. This is more than two-thirds of Darfur’s
pre-war population, now diminished by hundreds of thousands of deaths
(see my April/May 2006 mortality assessment at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article102.html). Just as ominously,
insecurity also threatens the humanitarian workers and operations upon
which this vast population is increasingly dependent. The UN’s World
Food Program warned in a recent press release (September 8, 2008) that
unless security improved, it would be forced to suspend to food aid to
millions of people already badly weakened by more than five years of

“The UN World Food Program (WFP) said that relentless attacks on
truck convoys in Darfur are pushing to the brink the agency’s ability
to feed more than 3 million people each month. While WFP managed to
recover three hijacked trucks and four fleet staff yesterday [September
6, 2008] following the latest attack in South Darfur, 69 trucks and 43
drivers remain unaccounted for. Since the beginning of the year, more
than 100 vehicles delivering WFP food assistance have been hijacked in
Darfur, with many more shot at and robbed. Drivers are refusing to
travel along certain routes, significantly slowing food aid deliveries
to hungry people.”

“‘Repeated and targeted attacks on food convoys are making it
extraordinarily difficult and dangerous for us to feed hungry people,’
said Monika Midel, WFP’s Deputy Representative in Sudan, saying that
the agency was deeply concerned that the welfare and lives of personnel
were being put at increased risk. ‘Should these attacks continue, the
situation will become intolerable---to the point that we will have to
suspend operations in some areas of Darfur.’” [ ]

“Since the beginning of the year, WFP has been warning that banditry
and attacks have been impeding its operation. The dramatic decline in
security has caused a major reduction in food deliveries to Darfur. WFP
started cutting rations in May when truck convoys could no longer
deliver enough food, affecting three million people. In July, almost
50,000 people received no food assistance at all due to insecurity.”
(UN World Food Program press release [Rome], September 7, 2008)

WFP’s implementing partners are also facing intolerable insecurity
and in some cases suspending operations. German Agro Action is
instanced in the WFP press release:

“WFP’s warning comes in the wake of the decision on 27 August
[2008] by NGO partner German Agro Action (GAA) to suspend food
distribution to 450,000 people in North Darfur because of

And yet far from responding to this desperate situation by providing
escorts for food and humanitarian convoys, Khartoum continues to expend
its military resources in new offensives against rebel groups and
civilians, particularly in North Darfur and Jebel Marra. Negotiations
between the UN and the regime to provide effective protection for
humanitarian efforts, and in particular WFP convoys, have proved

At the same time, in a policy of suprem
e callousness, Khartoum is also
engaged in the large-scale export of food, mainly through large
agribusiness concerns that are controlled by the regime and its cronies
(for an excellent discussion of this policy, see The New York Times,
“Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells Food,” August 9, 2008,
In other words, while the world community is struggling to bring
adequate food into Sudan via Port Sudan and overland to Darfur, the
Khartoum regime and its partners are profiting handsomely from food
exports, especially to the Arab world.


In July 2006, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan directed the UN
Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to conduct a rapid
assessment of what would be required for a UN peacekeeping mission to
Darfur. That plan served as the basis for UN Security Council
Resolution 1706, passed on August 31, 2006. The force contemplated in
the resolution comprised 22,500 UN troops and civilian police, with a
robust mandate for civilian and humanitarian protection. China
abstained on the resolution, though it used its threat of a veto to
insist that language be inserted “inviting” the consent of the
Khartoum regime for the authorized UN force. Predictably, the regime
declined the “invitation,” and the UN Secretariat---primarily in the
person of Jan Pronk, special representative to Sudan of the Secretary
General---quickly capitulated before this defiance. The resolution was
simply dropped from further consideration and no plans were made for
implementation, actions without precedent in the history of UN
peacekeeping. What followed was vague and desultory talk from Pronk and
others of an “African Union-Plus,” a beefing up of the under-manned,
under-equipped, badly led, and deeply demoralized AU force that had
begun to deploy fitfully in late 2004 to augment the observer force that
had arrived earlier in the summer.

Following “high-level consultations” in Addis Ababa in November
2006, a skimpy and too often critically vague document emerged to form
the basis of prolonged, obscenely deferential negotiations with Khartoum
about the possibility of a UN role in a peacekeeping force for Darfur.
The belated fruit of these negotiations was embodied in UN Security
Council Resolution 1769 (July 31, 2007), authorizing 26,000 troops and
civilian police in a “hybrid” UN and African Union force that would
be known as “UNAMID.” From the beginning it was clear that
concessions made by the UN would prove disastrous for the “hybrid”
mission: an unprecedented and hopelessly confused command-and-control
structure; language that permitted Khartoum to insist that it had veto
power over which non-African nations could deploy as part of the
mission; and a reliance on African resources that simply did not exist.
Moreover, China again used its threat of a veto to insist on changes to
the resolution, in this case deleting any mention of punitive measures
in the all-too-predictable event of non-compliance by Khartoum. And
indeed Khartoum has refused to abide by key terms of the resolution, and
has repeatedly reneged on its own negotiated commitments.

The well-reported upshot has been that UNAMID is a disaster, little
more than a continuation of the previous African Union mission in
Darfur. Fewer than 10,000 personnel of the 26,000 authorized have
deployed, and only one of the 19 critical Formed Police Units essential
for stabilizing security within the camps has deployed. Engineering
efforts to prepare for additional military battalions have been badly
delayed, in no small measure because of Khartoum’s early refusal to
permit deployment of a highly trained Swedish/Norwegian engineering
battalion. Well-equipped and -trained battalions from Thailand and
Nepal have also been refused.

But it is also true that the international community has allowed UNAMID
to fail for lack of resources and a refus
al to provide clear political
commitment to see the terms of Resolution 1769 respected. For over two
years---since July 2006---every militarily capable nation in the world
has known the basic demands of any peace support operation for Darfur.
It is, then, a moral scandal of the first order that these militarily
capable nations have yet to contribute any of the required helicopters
desperately needed by the mission (24 for active use, entailing the
presence of some 70 airframes, given the intense maintenance required
for these aircraft operating in the difficult climate of Darfur). This
is so despite the fact that it has been obvious for more than two years
that helicopters would be a critical element in any successful peace
support operation in Darfur. UNAMID could do much more with these
critical transport aircraft, including investigating the current intense
fighting in North Darfur and Jebel Marra.

In fact, helicopters are available: a recent report by aviation
specialist Thomas Withington (“Grounded: the International Community’s
Betrayal of UNAMID,” July 31, 2008, at
identifies a number of particular countries that might contribute. The
report, endorsed by 36 human rights organizations and other
nongovernmental organizations from around the world:

“[S]ets out for the first time which states have the necessary
helicopters and estimates how many are available for deployment to
Darfur. It identifies a number of countries---including the Czech
Republic, India, Italy, Romania, Spain and Ukraine---that have large
numbers of helicopters that meet the required specifications and are not
on mission or mission rotation elsewhere. Many of these helicopters are
gathering dust in hangars or flying in air shows when they could be
saving lives in Darfur.” (Forward to “Grounded: the International
Community’s Betrayal of UNAMID”)

Most tellingly, in the Executive Summary, the report finds:

“Using conservative estimates, the report calculates that NATO alone
could provide as many as 104 suitable helicopters for the UNAMID force.
Among NATO countries, those countries best placed to provide helicopters
to UNAMID are the Czech Republic, Italy, Romania and Spain. In addition,
Ukraine and India---both countries that traditionally contribute to UN
peacekeeping missions---could together contribute 34 helicopters.
Between them, these six countries could provide an estimated fleet of
over 70 helicopters---four times the number required by UNAMID.
Countries with the ability to provide these helicopters must do so
immediately, and Security Council members---especially the five
permanent members---must engage in concerted diplomacy to make sure this

But as culpable as the international community as a whole has been in
its failure to provide the necessary resources, equipment, and logistics
for UNAMID, it is the Khartoum regime that has done most to eviscerate
the force and cripple its deployment. It took many months to secure
from Khartoum a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), detailing precisely
what actions, prerogatives, and responsibilities the two parties---the
regime and UNAMID---actually had. And even this “agreement” was
partial: for example, Khartoum formally agreed to grant night-flying
rights to UNAMID only in mid-August 2008---more than a year after
Security Council passage of Resolution 1769. Khartoum has also kept key
UNAMID supply containers in Port Sudan without cause or explanation.
And as noted above, Khartoum has regularly obstructed the movement of
UNAMID personnel performing their mission, in clear violation of the
SOFA. Indeed, a May 2008 attack on a UNAMID officer reveals complete
contempt by Khartoum, whose security forces in el-Fasher (capital of
North Darfur) assaulted a UNAMID investigator in the course of his

“The [UNAMID] security officer went to the market area in El Fasher
yesterday [May 21, 2008] to investigate a road accident involving a
staff member, a military vehicle, and a taxi, according to UNAMID. He
had just started taking pictures of the scene when a small group of
military personnel assaulted him, despite the intervention of UNAMID
civilian staff.” (UNAMID public statement [Khartoum], May 22, 2008)

The African Union has shown no willingness, military or political, to
confront Khartoum, and has thereby lost the confidence and support of
the Darfuri civilians they are tasked with protecting. For its part,
Khartoum---facing no threat of sanctions or punishment---is evermore
emboldened in its actions. As a consequence, in little more than eight
months UNAMID has descended from the status of welcome successor to the
previous AU force to an object of scorn and anger. Much of this derives
ultimately from the attitudes in Addis Ababa, AU headquarters, where
deference to, even support for Khartoum is conspicuous.

African countries that are also members of the Arab League are
particularly culpable, especially Egypt. None of this is lost on
Darfuris, on the ground or in the diaspora. UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon’s September 12 celebration of an Arab League-led “peace
process” for Darfur, with Qatar nominally taking the lead, reflects a
desperate foolishness, a desire to be seen doing something rather than
nothing on his self-declared “signature” issue
(http://allafrica.com/stories/200809130001.html). In fact, turning to
the Arab League for leadership in the Darfur peace process will surely
make any meaningful efforts all the more difficult: Khartoum will
welcome the initiative because it is confident of support for its
diplomatic posture; Darfuris of all parties and affiliation will reject
Arab efforts for the same reason.


There are no surprises, nothing that is unexpected in the outlines of
the force that has become UNAMID. UNAMID did not have to fail, though
international capitulation before Khartoum’s defiance of Security
Council Resolution 1706 has been the critical context for a now
deepening failure. This context also includes key developments of the
past two years: this is the period in which the fracturing of the rebel
movements was most destructive of the chances for a negotiated peace
agreement, the only long-term solution to the Darfur crisis. This is
also the period in which humanitarian access began its remorseless

Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 24 (conditions as of July 1, 2006)
reported that humanitarian access stood at 82 percent---with 500,000
fewer civilians internally displaced. But in the wake of the Darfur
Peace Agreement, access to needy civilians in Darfur has been
dramatically attenuated, many hundreds of thousands of civilians have
been newly displaced, and the very meaning of humanitarian assistance
has had to be re-defined. Instead, of providing primary care,
monitoring clinics and food distribution, overseeing water purification
and hygiene, aid workers far too often have to settle for simply
delivering supplies, able to stay in many locations for only hours
instead of days. The quality of humanitarian aid has as a consequence
plummeted. The meaning of humanitarian “access” has also been
radically re-defined: for populations outside the main towns, access
means [a] people in need who can be reached only by expensive,
hit-and-run helicopter transport (perhaps 70 percent of the population
in need), and [b] people in need who can be reached by heavily protected
convoys delivering supplies (perhaps 40 percent of the population). A
June 2, 2008 access map from the UN Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs
shows clearly how extremely tenuous the reach of humanitarian
organizations has become.

Humanitarian indicators were also improving in summer 2006, whereas the
current Darfur Humanitarian Profile (No. 32, conditions as of July 1,
2008) concludes its narrative:

“In June [2008], the Sudan
humanitarian Country team visited South
Darfur [home to approximately half Darfur’s total population], and
warned that limited time remained to safeguard the Darfur populations
against an increasingly unsustainable situation. Although malnutrition
rates are currently in line with last year’s figures, the prognosis
for the humanitarian situation in the coming months is extremely
worrisome.” (page 15)

As of July 1, 2008 it was clear that malnutrition was poised to rise
precipitously. August and September are the two heaviest months of
rainfall in Darfur, creating a logistical nightmare for humanitarians.
Not nearly enough food had been pre-positioned in remoter or more
inaccessible areas; and not nearly enough food is making its way into
Darfur because of insecurity (see UN World Food Program announcement
above). Food rations have been severely cut for beneficiaries
throughout Darfur since May---four months ago. The prospects for
harvests this fall are extremely grim, and this follows the disastrous
harvests of last fall in South and North Darfur.

Water supplies and sanitary facilities are also being compromised, not
only by the seasonal rains, but by deliberate policies on Khartoum’s
part. UN officials report that Khartoum-orchestrated violence continues
to target waters sources in rural areas, and that regime officials limit
fuel supplies to camps, fuel that runs water pumps at key access points,
providing the water upon which many hundreds of thousands of people are
completely dependent.

There can be little doubt that Khartoum is engaged in a strategic and
comprehensive assault on the camps, as well as the humanitarian efforts
that sustain them. Thus humanitarian agencies that provide overall
management in particular camps have frequently been the target of
Khartoum’s efforts, as Clea Kahn finds in “Conflict, Arms, and
Militarization: The Dynamics of Darfur’s IDP Camps” (page 47):

“[Lack of effective camp management] is more often the result of
calculated attacks on those carrying out the day-to-day work of managing
and running the camps. More than in any other sector, [nongovernmental
humanitarian organizations (NGOs)] and UN agencies involved in camp
coordination functions have found themselves closely monitored and
harassed by government officials, who have subjected them to
bureaucratic restrictions, accusations of inappropriate activities, and
sometimes expulsions. The most visible example of this treatment was the
suspension on several occasions of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in
charge of coordination activities in Kalma; it eventually withdrew
completely from Darfur. A growing number of prominent international NGOs
followed suit, leaving many camps either without any management at all
or managed by organizations with limited capacity and experience.
Increasingly, these are national NGOs, which are even more susceptible
to government harassment.”

The largest consequences of this war of attrition against humanitarian
efforts should be clear to all. As Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 32
declares in its introductory overview:

“The humanitarian situation in Darfur has become increasingly
precarious. The combination of high levels of insecurity, poor
harvests, difficulties in bringing supplies into Darfur, reduction in
the quality of humanitarian services, reduced food rations, and
overcrowded Internally Displaced Persons camps is truly alarming.”
(page 3)

This assessment is echoed by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF), which in August was forced by insecurity to suspend
operations in North Darfur serving some 65,000 civilians:

“In the last four years, the situation [in Darfur] has not improved.
In fact, for most people, things have gotten worse. Conditions in many
of the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and in rural areas have
deteriorated, and the insecurity is a major concern for ordinary people.
People are living in fear. Every day is a question mark for
(MSF Alert, Vol. 11, No. 8, Summer 2008, page 6)

These conditions derive not from shortcomings in humanitarian
commitment or courage, or from a lack of financial resources---though
this may soon become an issue as donor fatigue inevitably sets in, and
other parts of Africa cry out for the same kind of intensive
humanitarian response. The increasingly desperate situation for
civilians and humanitarians in Darfur is a function of insecurity that
Khartoum is deliberately exacerbating, and of policies that deliberately
threaten the lives of non-Arab populations in the region, both in the
camps and in rural areas. It is no defense of the regime to say that
banditry and rebel actions also contribute to life-threatening
insecurity, particularly given Khartoum’s deliberate sabotaging of
UNAMID and its ability to provide security and address the threats to
that security.


We can’t know all the ways in which the National Islamic Front regime
in Khartoum has attacked, obstructed, compromised, and threatened UNAMID
operations and deployment, though it is clear that there is a
comprehensive policy designed to minimize the capabilities of this
UN-authorized force. We can identify key moments that define
Khartoum’s attitude toward UNAMID, and the ways in which the UN
operation is militarily constrained by the regime’s actions.

Direct military assaults on UNAMID are the most significant of these

[1] At approximately 10pm on January 7, 2008 Khartoum’s regular Sudan
Armed Forces (SAF) attacked, deliberately and with premeditation, a
UNAMID convoy. Comprising more than 20 cargo trucks and armored
personnel carriers (APC’s), the convoy came under heavy, sustained
fire near Tine, West Darfur. One truck was destroyed, an APC was
damaged, and a driver was critically wounded with numerous bullet
wounds. The SAF assault on the convoy lasted 10-12 minutes, during which
time UNAMID military personnel did not return fire. The motive for the
attack, certainly ordered by senior SAF military commanders, was to
inhibit the movement of UNAMID ground and air forces during night hours.
In other words, the attack was meant to serve warning that UNAMID would
be restricted in the same ways that the impotent African Union mission
in Darfur was restricted from the time of its initial deployment in

Evidence that the SAF attack was deliberate and premeditated was
overwhelming, a conclusion clearly shared by then-UN Undersecretary for
Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and many others within the UN,
including within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. In his
January 9, 2007 briefing of the UN Security Council, Guéhenno offered a
number of compelling details, details amplified in confidential
interviews conducted by this writer. The most basic facts of the attack
and its circumstances make unambiguously clear that Khartoum lied at
every step of the way in its account of events, including initially
denying that its forces were in any way involved in the attack on the
UNAMID convoy. For a full account of the evidence available, see my
January 15, 2008 analysis at:

[2] On July 8, 2008, at approximately 2:45pm local time, heavily armed
Janjaweed militia attacked a joint police and military patrol of the
UN/African Union Mission in Sudan (UNAMID) in an area approximately 100
kilometers southeast of el-Fasher, near the village of Umm Hakibah
(North Darfur). In a firefight that lasted approximately three hours,
seven UNAMID troops and police were killed and twenty-two were injured,
seven of these critically. Ten vehicles were destroyed or taken during
the attack. Although there was initial uncertainty about the identity of
the attacking force, this uncertainty was eliminated in the course of a
preliminary investigation. In addition to various published reports,
then-UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Guéhenno offered a compelling
July 11, 2008 briefing to the
UN Security Council in closed session,
making a number of telling observations that point unambiguously to
Janjaweed forces as those responsible:

[a] Guéhenno told the Security Council that the attack on UN-authorized
peacekeepers “took place in an area under Sudanese government control
and that some of the assailants were dressed in clothing similar to
Sudanese army uniforms. He also said the ambush was ‘pre-meditated and
well-organized’ and was intended to inflict casualties rather than to
steal equipment or vehicles” (Voice of America [dateline: UN/New
York], July 11, 2008). The peacekeepers attacked reported seeing
approximately 200 fighters, many on horses---a signature feature of the

[b] Agence France Presse reports: “Guehenno was quoted as saying that
the ambush was designed ‘to inflict casualties and was carried out
with ‘equipment usually not used by (rebel) militias” ([dateline:
UN/New York], July 11, 2008). Separately and confidentially, a UN
official went further in confirming to this writer that some of the arms
used, including large-caliber recoilless rifles, have never been seen in
the arsenals of the rebel groups. This official said that Guéhenno, then
on the verge of retirement, had rarely been so explicit in assigning
responsibility for attacks in Darfur.

There is additional evidence that the Janjaweed---armed and in this
case almost certainly directed by Khartoum’s military command---were
responsible for the attack on 61 UNAMID soldiers, 10 civilian police
officers, and two military observers, who were returning to their
el-Fasher base after investigating the killing of two civilians. For a
full account of the evidence implicating the Janjaweed and Khartoum in
this attack on UNAMID, see my analysis at:

[c] In May it was again the Janjaweed that attacked a well-armed UNAMID
convoy. The New York Times reported at the time (May 23, 2008 [dateline:

“Militiamen in Sudanese Army uniforms ambushed a convoy of Nigerian
peacekeepers in Darfur, robbing them of cash and weapons, United Nations
officials said Friday. No one was wounded in the attack, which took
place on Wednesday [May 21, 2008] near Geneina, the capital of West
Darfur State, but it was nonetheless a humiliating blow to the hybrid
United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force, which is struggling
to prove it can do better than the African force it replaced.”

[d] And again, in an attack revealing remarkable contempt for UNAMID,
Khartoum’s security forces in el-Fasher (capital of North Darfur)
assaulted a UNAMID investigator in the course of his duties:

“The [UNAMID] security officer went to the market area in El Fasher
yesterday [May 21, 2008] to investigate a road accident involving a UN
staff member, a military vehicle, and a taxi, according to UNAMID. He
had just started taking pictures of the scene when a small group of
military personnel assaulted him, despite the intervention of UNAMID
civilian staff.” (UNAMID public statement [Khartoum], May 22, 2008)


A key task that should be undertaken by UNAMID is establishing a full
record of all reported and confirmed attacks in which there are civilian
casualties. If mapped with sufficient data, this would reveal many of
the deadly patterns of Khartoum’s military activities. But too often
UNAMID, as was true of its African Union predecessor, neither reports
nor investigates such attacks. Many times this is simply because of
logistical and transport shortcomings, as well as lack of manpower and
communications capacity. Other times UNAMID simply defers to Khartoum
and does not travel to sites of alleged civilian casualties, or
investigation is highly belated, with civilian witnesses scattered and
Khartoum already committed to more of its brazen lies. Certainly UNAMID
has not intervened to protect civilians, as revealed most dismayingly
during the February 2008 assault on civilian target
s in the large
corridor directly north of el-Geneina.

There, in the wake of military successes by the rebel Justice and
Equality Movement (JEM), as well as provocative threats from JEM’s
leadership about capturing el-Geneina, Khartoum launched a massive
counter-insurgency campaign fully reminiscent of the village destruction
of 2003 to early 2005. JEM had captured, with little resistance,
several towns in this region, including Sileah, Abu Surouj, and
Sirba---all about 20-30 miles north and northwest of el-Geneina. But by
the time Khartoum’s campaign began, the rebels had retreated. Even
so, Khartoum’s violence was massive, indiscriminate, and
unconstrained. Contemporaneous accounts from civilian victims,
humanitarians and human rights groups, intrepid journalists, and
eventually UN personnel suggest how destructive Khartoum’s violence
remains. An estimated 50,000-60,000 people were newly displaced by the
regime’s assault:

“A refugee from Sileah told the UN High Commission for Refugees that
ground attacks by the Janjaweed militia, allegedly supported by Sudanese
Antonov aircraft, nearly destroyed Abu Surouj and reportedly caused
heavy damage to four camps for internally displaced people.” (Reuters
([dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], February 10, 2008)

Human Rights Watch minced no words, highlighting also a previous attack
on Saraf Jidad, a town of 15,000:

“The government [of Sudan] and allied militias have responded [to JEM
control of these towns] by indiscriminately attacking villages without
distinguishing between the civilian population and rebel combatants, in
violation of international humanitarian law.” [ ]

“The attacks were carried out by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese
ground troops, supported by attack helicopters and aerial bombardments.
‘The Sudanese government is once again showing its total disregard for
the safety of civilians,’ said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. ‘This return to large-scale attacks on villages
will be catastrophic for Darfur’s civilians, because they’re
completely unprotected.’” (Human Rights Watch press release [New
York], February 10, 2008)

Individual civilians offered their own harrowing accounts: Abu Surouj
resident Malik Mohamed, speaking to Reuters ([dateline: Khartoum]
February 8, 2008),

“said he had escaped during the attack early on Friday [February 8,
2008]. ‘First of all I saw two helicopters and Janjaweed on horses and
camels, after that I saw cars,’ he said. ‘The helicopters hit us
four times and around 20 bombs were dropped,’ he said by telephone.
His voice breaking, he said he had no idea where his family was. ‘I am
outside the city and can see burning. They (the attackers) are still

Reuters also reports ([dateline: Khartoum], February 9, 2008):

“Sheikh el-Din Mohamed, who escaped from Suleia, told Reuters by
telephone from Darfur that he saw a bomb flatten a hut with a woman and
her three children in it. He said he also saw attackers kill a driver
from the Sudanese Red Crescent as well as four other civilians.”

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on February 10,

“Up to 12,000 ‘terrified’ refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region
have fled across the border to neighboring Chad after the latest air
strikes by the Sudanese military and thousands more may be on their
way.” [ ]

“Most of the refugees so far are men, [UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux]
said. But the arrivals are telling UNHCR that ‘thousands of women and
children are on their way’ to Chad, she added.” [ ]

“Caux said UNHCR was looking at way to assist people still trapped in
the three towns bombed by Sudan. ‘Thousands of households have been
directly affected by the bombings and attacks,’ she said.”
(Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], February 10, 2008)

Nothing has changed in the genocidal nature of Khartoum’s campaign of
human destruction, as these accounts from north of el-Geneina clearly


“The head of the [non-Arab] Erenga tribe which dominates Abu Surouj
and Sirba, Ishaq Nasir, said they had confirmed 27 dead, but expected
the actual death toll to exceed rebel reports of 200. An exact number
was hard to confirm because attacks continued, he said. ‘These
dead---most of them are tribal leaders or teachers or people working for
the state. Are these people rebels?’ asked Yehia Mohamed Ulama, a
tribal leader from Abu Surouj. He added that JEM had no troops in the

“Ulama and other tribal elders had left their hometowns, now burnt to
the ground, to come to Khartoum and complain about militia attacks last
month. The visit saved their lives. ‘If someone kills the leadership
of the tribe they mean to wipe it out completely,’ said Bashir Ibrahim
Yehia, a member of parliament for the area. He said 90-year-old Erenga
tribal leader Daoud Idriss was killed in his house with his entire
family on Friday [February 8, 2008] along with school teachers who were
visiting them.”

“If someone kills the leadership of the tribe they mean to wipe it
out completely”: we have too many examples of precisely this form of
ethnically-targeted human destruction, focusing on men within a tribe
who function as leaders, teachers, or potential fighters. (For a fuller
account of the February 2008 assault north of el-Geneina, see my
analysis at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article204.html.)

It seems pointless to note that existing UN resolutions ban all
military flights by Khartoum over Darfur. These indiscriminate bombings
of civilian targets in West Darfur not only violate international law,
but Khartoum’s own obligations under the specific terms of UN demands.
It would seem equally pointless to note yet again the only meaningful
“demand” of UN Security Council Resolution 1556, viz. that
Khartoum disarm its Janjaweed allies and bring the militia leaders to
justice. This “demand” has meant absolutely nothing for more than
four years---a fact that figures prominently in Khartoum’s present
calculations about military and security actions.

Similarly, the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has repeatedly
demonstrated that Khartoum has violated the arms embargo on Darfur
imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005). Yet
recently an Iranian military drone was shot down over Darfur by rebels.
The drone was almost certainly controlled by Iranian military personnel,
though Khartoum fantastically claims that the drone was spraying crops
with a pesticide. The Sudan Tribune (August 17, 2008) reports that:

“The Sudanese government has bought fifty trucks from the Ural truck
plan located in Russia’s Chelyabinsk Region and incorporated in the
GAZ groups. The Ural-4320 is a general purpose off-road 6x6 truck
produced for use in the Russian Army. [ ] The Rual-4320 is also used for
drilling for water, oil and gas drilling rigs, which are mounted on the
Ural-4320 chassis.”


These trucks will be deployed to Darfur---or possibly to the Nuba
Mountains. For while Khartoum is aware of the nature of international
scrutiny of its actions in Darfur---perhaps all that prevents a
wholesale assault on the displaced persons camps and humanitarian
operations---there is increasing evidence that the regime is determined
to have its military way in the three border areas contested in final
negotiation of the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” (CPA) (January
2005) between Khartoum and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation
Movement/Army (SPLM/A). One of these areas, the Abyei region of
northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile Provinces, very nearly became the
flashpoint for renewed war this past May, in part because the UN peace
support operation in southern Sudan (UNMIS) failed either to forestall
or respond to Khartoum’s deliberate attempts to provoke conflict. The
regime’s decision to destroy Abyei town, displacing many tens of
thousands of civilians, could easily have spa
rked renewed war.
Similarly, growing militarization along ethnic lines in the Nuba
Mountains---a region roughly the size of Austria in Southern Kordofan
Province---could spark an uncontrollable outbreak of violence.

In 1992 the National Islamic Front declared a “jihad,” or holy war,
against all in the Nuba Mountains who supported the SPLA. A culturally
rich, ethnically diverse region---with Muslims, Christians, and animists
traditionally living together---became the target of a total
humanitarian embargo that lasted more than a decade. The African
populations of the Nuba, like those of the oil regions to the south and
west, became the particular target of Khartoum’s violence and policy
of slow starvation. Compulsory Islamization was common, as was violent
human displacement to effect land clearances benefiting Khartoum’s
cronies who had designs on the most fertile land in the Nuba. Areas
such as Kauda were subject to relentless aerial attacks, deliberately
targeting schools, churches, clinics, and what humanitarian relief
managed to slip through the blockade.

There is no scope in the present analysis for any substantial account
of the current situation in the Nuba, but an excellent report on the
region has recently been published by the Small Arms Survey/Human
Security Baseline Assessment (“The Drift Back to War: Insecurity and
Militarization in the Nuba Mountains,” August 2008, at
http://allafrica.com/stories/200808260530.html). This
historically informed and detailed account makes clear that the region
is on the verge of slipping into a Darfur-like conflict, with some of
the same ethnic tensions deliberately inflamed by Khartoum. Indeed, the
report concludes with an explicit comparison to Darfur:

“It is clear that security is the biggest immediate challenge in the
Nuba Mountains. A combination of weak political will, an international
community distracted by Darfur, and UNMIS’s underperformance has led
to the failure of CPA implementation in South Kordofan. Ethnic tensions
are mounting in the region, and recovery and development plans are
overshadowed by the danger of a return to open conflict. Discontent over
the CPA’s failure to deliver economic development is turning to anger,
and many now view war in the Nuba Mountains as inevitable. An emerging
local narrative sees parallels with the events that led to the Darfur

Among the notable moments in the body of the report is the account
offered by the head of Khartoum’s security apparatus for the region,
which grimly anticipates similar instructions given to the SAF and
Janjaweed militias in Darfur:

“The head of security in South Kordofan, who later sought political
asylum in Switzerland, said the orders given to government troops were
‘to kill anything that is alive…to destroy everything, to burn the
area so that nothing can exist there.’”

For their part, most Nubans have shared the vision of their brilliant
and charismatic leader, Yousif Kuwa Mekke, whose outlook is reflected in
the best of the Darfur rebels:

“Long regarded as second-class citizens by Sudan’s Arab elite, the
Nuba’s indigenous cultures and religions were suppressed, and local
languages banned. Many reacted to political, economic, and social
marginalization by taking up arms against the government in the
mid-1980s. This followed harassment and government attacks on Nuba
villages suspected of having joined the SPLA uprising in South Sudan.
Under the leadership of a former teacher, Yousif Kuwa Mekke, they
demanded the ‘right to be Nuba’ and an end to marginalization in all
its forms. As ‘Africans’ within the political boundaries of
Arab-dominated northern Sudan, they fervently supported SPLA Chairman
John Garang’s vision of a ‘New Sudan,’ in which all Sudanese would
have equal rights and duties, irrespective of ethnicity.”

It is the countrywide suppression of such aspirations that has defined
the National Islamic Front during its 19 years of tyrannical rule:
the Nuba, in Southern Sudan, in the Eastern Provinces (especially among
the non-Arab Beja peoples), and in Darfur. Khartoum’s response to
efforts by Sudanese people to secure true equality has inevitably been
savagely violent repression, as we see in Darfur today. And the
willingness to resort to what this report calls “an inflammatory mix
of Arab supremacy and Islamic extremism” has been as evident in the
Nuba Mountains as it has been in Darfur---and the signs of a resurgence
of this hateful and cruelly deployed ideology are everywhere. The
report notes:

“Concern over a resurgence of Arab supremacism deepened in mid 2007
after a series of ethnically-targeted attacks of unusual brutality.”

The report also cites the findings of the distinguished Sudan
Organization Against Torture:

“‘This trend of attacks on innocent civilians has been repeated in
many areas of the eastern part of South Kordofan, and mainly carried out
by well-organized Arab militias determined to destabilize the area and
create a sense of insecurity among the population, mostly black African
tribes, to induce them to flee.’”

Of the Central Reserve Police (CRP), active in the brutal May 2008
assaults in the Tawilla area of North Darfur, the report describes this
force as having strong militia connections, including to the most
notorious Janjaweed leader, Musa Hilal---now part of the Khartoum
regime. The CRP is commanded by the Interior Ministry and is made up of
Arab militiamen extremely loyal to the National Islamic Front (National
Congress Party) leadership; this force has been extremely heavily armed,
and because its membership is from outside the Nuba region, it is
willing to engage in the most brutal forms of warfare. The Popular
Defense Forces (PDF) in the Nuba are also “now being rearmed with a
strong ethnic bias”:

“Growing ethnic insecurity in the region has the potential to
deteriorate significantly over the coming months and needs urgent
attention to prevent it from spiraling out of control.”

These words could, of course, have been used to describe Darfur for
years prior to the outbreak of full-blown hostilities in 2003. And we
should have no doubt that Khartoum’s heavy militarization of the Nuba,
with corresponding responses from the SPLA, may well lead to a new
bloodbath, with huge numbers of civilians again caught in violence that
serves only the interests of Khartoum in its continuing arrogation of
national power and wealth. Indeed, one of the most important
observations in this new report on the Nuba points to the clear
electoral implications of recent ethnic violence:

“Political analysts link recent violence in the east [of the Nuba
Mountains] to the 2009 elections and preparations by the government
hardliners to achieve political ends through military means in an area
of the Nuba Mountains where the SPLM/A has only recently begun to win

In fact, the idea that Khartoum will allow free and fair elections in
Sudan next year, as scheduled by the CPA, seems increasingly fanciful.
There has never been any reason to believe that Khartoum would live up
to this commitment, even as it has abrogated countless other obligations
under the CPA. Whether through military intimidation, fraud, bribery, a
factitious coup d’etat, or simply arrogant denial, the National
Islamic Front regime in Khartoum will never willingly surrender the
power its has so ruthlessly accumulated over so many years.

This ruthlessness, unchecked by the international community, has led to
the ongoing horrors of Darfur. It may soon extend to other regions of

* Eric Reeves is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu. www.sudanreeves.org

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