SUDAN WATCH: Sudan: Child soldiers in Janjaweed and breakaway Darfur rebel group NMRD

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sudan: Child soldiers in Janjaweed and breakaway Darfur rebel group NMRD

In Darfur last week, things were unusually quiet while Sudan's First Vice-President Taha toured the region. It was his first visit to Darfur and proves that Khartoum do have control over the violence. He was not attacked by the outlaws and bandits known as the Janjaweed over which the regime in Khartoum says it has no control. One never sees news of Janjaweed killed by landmines and bombs.

Recently, Khartoum pledged not to use cargo planes for their bombings of Darfur. But the promise did not extend to other military aircraft, such as helicopter gunships that Sudan's air force have used to straf civilians. Maybe Khartoum anticipated a no-fly zone could be on the table at the UN Security Council. Khartoum do not do anything out of kindness.

At times, one can't help feeling that Jan Pronk, the UN special envoy for Sudan, molly coddles Khartoum. There was a time last year when Mr Pronk sat in his office, situated on the upper floor of a hotel in Khartoum, while downstairs, at the same time, the most wanted Arab tribal leader gave press interviews. This happened shortly after Kofi Annan, Colin Powell and the UN Security Council demanded that Khartoum rein in the Arab militias. Khartoum always deny they have any control over the Janjaweed. Arab militias are used by Khartoum to attack the rebels because too many Sudanese soldiers originate from the Darfur region and cannot be trusted to attack their own people.

Regular Sudan Watchers will know there are two main rebel groups in Darfur, namely the SLM/SLA and JEM. Since last summer, a third rebel group has gained publicity. They broke away from the JEM and called themselves the National Movement for Reform and Development (NMRD). You have to wonder if this is a strategy employed by Sudan's rebel groups (including John Garang's) to add more strings to their bow for the Darfur peace talks. It seems obvious (to me anyway) the rebels' only aim is to weaken and overthrow a regime that aims to retain power at any cost. Both sides make the Darfur peace talks seem like a charade. Whenever the SLM/SLA and JEM are in a corner during the Darfur peace talks, they either fail to attend or walk out to cause further delays, and trouble or another rebel group springs up elsewhere to bait Khartoum into responding. NMRD rebels recently bombed an oil pump near Khartoum and protested in the streets of Port Sudan for the people of Eastern Sudan who also want a share of power and oil revenues.

The SLM/SLA and JEM are fighting for Darfur in Western Sudan. A recently signed north-south peace accord, negotiated over several years to bring peace to the whole of Sudan, covers Southern Sudan only. As a result of the signed deal, John Garang, leader of the Southern Sudan rebel group SPLM/A will soon replace Taha as First Vice-President of Sudan. Taha and Bashir are very close. It is difficult to believe Bashir and Taha are not, along with foreign minister Ismail, on the UN's list of 10 Sudanese officials suspected of being responsible for some of the war crimes committed in Darfur.

When Garang takes over as First Vice-President, it looks like Taha who, with his new responsibilities for managing the Darfur catastrophe, will float in the background, perhaps taking on the role of foreign minister Ismail who is stepping down when the newly formed South Sudan Government starts to become a reality.

Note, it is common knowledge US government officials were instrumental in getting Sudan's north-south peace accord negotiated and signed. Maybe they fear being called to an International Criminal Court to answer questions. After all, it is no secret the US backed and supported Garang's rebels. Garang is a trained economist, educated in the States. I have yet to find a report that explains how the Darfur rebels have been supported and funded over the past two years. My theory is they are supported by the international community.

The regime in Khartoum have proven to be completely untrustworthy. It can't be easy for them to know who to trust. Garang and Bashir were arch enemies. Two is company, three is a crowd. Maybe Bashir will slope off and retire, followed by Taha to avoid being called to a tribunal, and Garang will take over as president to try and unite a New Sudan. But there are many people who backed Bashir and Taha and committed atrocities over the last 15 years. Surely they would fear retribution and so continue fighting for the Arabisation of Sudan. In my view, Sudan may need to break apart. It is not easy believing peace is just around the corner. Peace may take many more years to achieve. Meanwhile, something unique is needed to change the mindset of those who hold so many grievances. Perhaps they could be helped by a charismatic and inspirational leader. Maybe Garang can do it. Maybe not. I believe women could manage the change that is needed. Men, over so many decades, attacking, raping and murdering hundreds of thousands defenceless women and children is all wrong. Today's children of Sudan ought to be carrying lambs, not arms.

Darfur rebels roam empty African plains

The following editorial re the child soldiers in the breakaway Darfur rebel group NMRD is a copy of a report dated Feb 9 by Opheera McDoom titled "Darfur rebels roam empty African plains":

JABEL MOUN, Sudan (Reuters) - Mohamed Abdel Karim crouches down on the sandy earth next to a rifle bigger than his tiny frame, lights up a cigarette and nurses a stick cast protecting his broken right arm.

The 12-year-old is one of many child soldiers caught up in fighting during the rebellion in Darfur, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than 1.8 million people from their homes in the arid region the size of France since it began in February 2003.

Sheltering from the sweltering heat of the Savannah plains surrounding West Darfur's Jabel Moun area, he proudly states he is fighting for the freedom of his people, sporting the traditional light green head wrap which runs the entire length of his small body.

"My mother and father would be happy because I will free Darfur from tyranny," he said. His family are across the border in Chad in a refugee camp, having fled fighting last year.

He joined the rebels 11 months ago when his two brothers also joined. Mohamed carries a pistol -- he's not graduated to carrying Kalashnikovs like his older comrades.

Jabel Moun, about four and a half hours off-road driving through burned villages, desolate desert and African plains from the Chadian-Sudanese border town of Tine, is the stronghold of a breakaway rebel group, the National Movement for Reform and Development (NMRD).

The NMRD is a little-known group which split from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) last April. Fighters said they command between 2,000 and 5,000 troops, mostly along the border with Chad and around the Jabel Moun area.

They move camps and stay as mobile as possible in clapped out old vehicles they stole from the government during attacks or in newer 4x4s, which they say were donated to them by rich supporters outside the country. Leader Gibril Abdel Karim Bari's vehicle had no windscreen left.

Gibril is the commander the militias say they most want and the rebels from NMRD most respect. An accomplished military mind, his driving skills are famously lacking. A crashed car wrapped around a smashed tree next to the track was testament to his latest accident.

"Oops, sorry," he said, laughing as he drove at breakneck speed into a ditch, with dozens of soldiers hanging off the back, clinging on for dear life.

The rebel soldiers roam throughout the rough, thorny terrain, empty for hundreds of kilometres but for the odd hawk or pea hen. Most of the inhabitants fled the fighting and are among the more than 200,000 refugees encamped in Chad. Many villages were burned.

Rebels often come under attack from Arab militias, known as Janjaweed. But they say the government has not bombed for about six months in their area.

REBEL FAMILIES

Despite the splits in Darfur's rebel movements and the external political leadership's differences, the lines between the rebel groups on the ground are faint. Many joined the NMRD from JEM or the other group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

One of Mohamed Abdel Karim's brothers is in JEM, and the other in the SLA. He regularly touches base by telephone. Abdel Gasim is the general secretary of the NRMD and his uncle is the JEM spokesman in London.

"We are all fighting for the same reasons -- why would we not coordinate?" said Khalil Abdallah, the political secretary of the movement.

Gibril said his forces in South Darfur took orders from the SLA commander there and the SLA base near Jabel Moun answered to him.

The NMRD move freely back and forth across the Chadian border, where they sporadically signal to groups of armed men to let them pass.

"The roads there are safer -- on the Sudan side there are Janjaweed," said one driver, who identified himself as Ahmed.

UN report warns on child soldiers

9 Feb Guardian UK report says in his annual report to the UN Security Council on child soldiers, Kofi Annan recommended sanctions against groups who use child soldiers. These could include travel bans on leaders, arms embargoes and a "restriction on the flow of financial resources to the parties concerned," he said.

The report said child soldiers are used in Burundi, Ivory Coast, Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda. There are about 300,000 child soldiers around the world, compared to between 350,000 and 380,000 two years ago.

Annan's report said child soldiers are used in the Darfur by the Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, which has killed, maimed and committed grave sexual violence against children.

The UN Security Council is to debate Annan's report on Feb. 23.
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Darfur refugees live in Chad within sight of their homes

Update 10 Feb: Reuters report from Tine, Chad tells us a little about the Sudanese refugees sheltering on the Chadian side of Tine, a town that straddles the border of Sudan and Chad. Here is a copy of the report Feb 10:

Sudanese refugee Rajab and thousands of other refugees have lived on the Chadian side of Tine town for 13 months since they fled battles between rebels and government forces in Sudanese Tine. The towns are separated by a dry river bed. Rajab lives 50 metres from his home -- but he dare not go back to live there for fear of being caught in the middle of a two-year-old rebellion in Darfur bordering Chad. "If we go back the opposition (rebels) may kill us thinking we are with the government, and the government may accuse us of being with the rebels and kill us," he said.

A makeshift refugee camp extends Chadian Tine's suburbs by a few kilometres on all sides. Buses and trucks fill the marketplace, ready to transfer hundreds of Sudanese back to the camps set up by aid agencies away from the border and which house more than 200,000 refugees.

Mohamed Mansour Dousa said rebels had told the refugees not to go back to the Sudanese side. He is the son of the leader of the main Zaghawa tribe in Tine and wears Sudanese traditional white turban and galabiyya. "And we don't want to go back until there is a final peace deal between the rebels and the government," he said. "Otherwise war could break out at any time -- there's no guarantees."

Many of the lesser-educated women repeated stories they had clearly heard over and over again. "(President) Omar al-Bashir will kill us if we go back. The Janjaweed are his family," Tanbus Adam Haggar said, flashing a toothless grin. "People say the Janjaweed are still there, attacking," she said.

The Zaghawa, are the base for the revolution

Colourfully dressed women described pictures of sprawling Sudanese Tine completely flattened by government bombardment, and did not believe it was mostly still standing, if completely empty.

Adam Shatta, a Zaghawa, said Janjaweed shot and killed three of his children. He managed to save two by heaving one on each shoulder and running to safety across the border to Chad in February 2004. "I want to go back and will, but only when the government gets rid of the Janjaweed," he said. "My farm is still waiting for me." He said non-Arab tribes could go back but the Zaghawa would never go back until there was a final peace deal.

"We, the Zaghawa, are the base for the revolution," he said. "That's why the government wants to kill us."

African Union not trusted

Najmeddin Ibrahim Eissa said the African Union, mandated to monitor a shaky ceasfire between the warring parties in Darfur, was not well liked among the general population.

"They are seen to be too sympathetic with the government because they have such close relations and cooperate so much together," he said. "I don't have anything against them personally but they do need a wider peace-keeping mandate."

Sudanese Tine was a bustling town of tens of thousands but now about 150 people live there with about 3,000 government soldiers, who fill the market place.

The AU camp of about 90 soldiers lies a few hundred metres outside the town and is the only life to be heard at night, apart from sporadic eery whispers blown over on the wind from acoss the border.

"The people will only go back when the army soldiers leave the town and the African Union soldiers move into Tine," said Hussein Bishara Dousa.
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AU observers have failed people of Darfur: Sudan rebel leader

9 Feb (AFP) report says African Union (AU) observers monitoring a ceasefire between ethnic minority rebels and government forces in Darfur have failed the local population, a rebel leader charged Wednesday.

"They have failed to be observers. Their presence has had no effect on the ground," Abdul Wahid Mohammed Ahmed al-Nur, leader of the SLM, told AFP by telephone from Asmara, Eritrea. "All they have done is watch and write," said Nur, arguing that the military observers have also failed to adequately respond to reports about attacks on civilians, often arriving "four or five days after an incident".

Nur called on the UN Security Council to issue a resolution changing the mandate of the AU in Darfur from observer to a full-fledged peacekeeping mission with a larger force and broader mandate. "I also urge African countries and others to contribute forces to protect civilians in Darfur," the SLM leader said.

Leader of the SPLM/A John Garang has proposed the deployment of a tripartite force -- one-third each from the government, the SPLA and the AU -- to oversee the Darfur ceasefire and end the bloodshed. "You really do need a robust force in order to be able to sufficiently protect the civilian population," Garang said Monday in New York.

Nur welcomed the participation of the SPLA in such a force, but said the government, which he accused of complicity in attacks against civilians in Darfur, cannot be part of that force. "We cannot accept that," he said.

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