October 15, 2016 (NYALA/ELFASHER) - Government-aligned militias in North and South Darfur states have continued to collect road tolls from passenger buses and commercial trucks at gunpoint in clear defiance of the presidential directives to stop this practice, said sources.
- Fighters from the Rapid Support Forces sit in an armed vehicle in Nyala, south Darfur, displaying weapons they say they captured from the Justice and Equality Movement rebels on May 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ashraf Shazly)
During his visit to the five states of Darfur last April, President Omer al-Bashir warned militias against collecting illegal tolls and levies along the highways linking the various towns in the region.
He also instructed the concerned bodies to impose the authority of the state, saying his government would soon launch a plan to disarm tribal militias and restricts the use of weapons to the regular forces.
A reliable source told Sudan Tribune on the condition of anonymity that illegal toll collection points, widely known as “gateways”, have appeared for the first time in 2009 on the highway linking South Darfur’s capital, Nyala to the town of Kass, 86 km west of Nyala, saying the militias set up 16 tents along the road to collect tolls.
He said these militias have fought alongside the government army against the rebel groups in Darfur, pointing the government rewarded these militias by allowing them to collect limited road tolls however the practice has expanded dramatically.
The same source stressed that unnamed local and state actors have vested interest in the continued existence of this phenomenon, pointing to the weakness and inability of both North and South Darfur governments to remove these “gateways”.
He added the federal government also doesn’t want to take decisive measures that could adversely impact its alliance with these militias particularly as the conflict in Darfur was not completely settled.
Salih Mohamed Guma’a, a passenger buses owner in Nyala, told Sudan Tribune the militias set up more than 37 “gateways” to collect road tolls along the highway between Nyala and North Darfur capital, El-Fasher under the pretext that they are protect passengers against armed robbery.
He pointed out the militias collect more than 16,000 pounds (SDG) from passenger buses and commercial trucks daily, saying these levies put additional burden on the residents because it raise the price of commodities and bus tickets.
Guma’a further said the passenger buses union in South Darfur has repeatedly appealed to the government to remove those “gateways” but to no avail.
A bus driver named Hamid Sulieman said that 27 passengers were killed and injured during altercations with the gateways’ militias, pointing they are waiting for the government to deal with this chaotic situation decisively.
“The gunmen usually threaten to kill drivers if they try to surpass the [gateway] tent without paying the prescribed levies … they have linked the safety and lives of passengers to a forcibly imposed sums,” he said.
In 2009, the former South Darfur governor Ali Mahomud issued a decision to remove all illegal gateways by force, however, several armed robbery incidents occurred just one week after they were removed forcing the government to retreat.
The imposition of illegal road tolls along the highway between El-Fasher and Kutum in North Darfur has led to a sharp rise in the ticket price from 50 to 150 pounds (SDG).
A local administration leader named Al-Tahir Ismail told Sudan Tribune that a number of the militias use their military vehicles to transport passengers and goods after passenger buses and commercial trucks decided to stop the business.
“Militias who set up random tents to [collect illegal tolls] claim they are affiliated with the border guards forces and also other unidentified gunmen have set up gateways to collect levies,” he said.
Last September, the then North Darfur deputy governor Adam al-Nahla issued a decision to remove all illegal gateways and stop collection of road tolls, saying it adversely impact the authority of the state and harms social ties among the residents.
He stressed that these illegal levies are not being deposited into the state’s treasury.
For his part, member of the executive office of North Darfur’s passenger buses trade union Mohamed Ahmed, said the militias imposed a 300 to 400 pounds toll on every single commercial truck travelling between El-Fasher and Kutum.
He stressed that militias affiliated with the government have again set up the gateways after they were removed for almost one year, pointing that four-wheel drive vehicles belonging to these militias have substituted passenger buses and commercial trucks which stopped working due to heavy tolls imposed on them.
The Darfur conflict started in February 2003 when two non-Arab African rebel groups took up arms for more power and resources.
The government responded with a counterinsurgency campaign in which a mostly Arab militia known as the Janjaweed has committed wide-scale abuses against people it says are allied to the rebels.
UN agencies estimate that over 300,000 people were killed in the conflict, and over 2.5 million were displaced.