Sudan army says RSF militia poses danger to security

Military warns recent movements by powerful group could lead to clashes

Sudanese protesters march towards the parliament building in Omdurman, during an anti-military rally to mark the anniversary of uprisings. AFP
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Sudan's military warned on Thursday that a mobilisation by the powerful Rapid Support Forces in Khartoum and other cities was fuelling tension and posing a danger to the nation's security.

The military said the movements were a breach of the law and the RSF's own regulations.

“Their continuation will inevitably result in more divisions and tensions that could undermine the nation's security,” it said.

“These movements and redeployments were carried out without the approval of the leadership of the armed forces or even consultations with it.”

The military's warning was spurred by a movement of RSF vehicles near a military airport in the northern city of Merowe, reported by local pro-democracy groups. The RSF said the previous day that the repositioning of vehicles was part of its normal duties in co-ordination with the regular armed forces.

Separately, Reuters quoted witnesses who saw a convoy of RSF vehicles, including armoured lorries, enter Khartoum on Thursday.

Warning of possible clashes between the two sides, the military said: “The armed forces has tirelessly sought peaceful solutions to these breaches in order to safeguard public safety and the wish not to see an armed conflict destroying everything.”

This is the first time the armed forces, led by military ruler Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, has explicitly addressed its differences with the RSF or complained about the paramilitary group's tactics. It follows months of speculation that tension was rising between the two sides.

The RSF, which has been deployed in Khartoum since 2019, has its genesis in the feared Janjaweed militia that fought on the government's side during the civil war in Darfur in the 2000s. Led by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, the RSF was legitimised in 2013 as part of the armed forces but with significant autonomy.

It is now thought to be a force of about 100,000 well-armed and combat-seasoned men.

It has vast economic interests, including gold mining, independently procures its weapons abroad and hires foreign military advisers. Gen Dagalo says he supports the principle of a “single army” but has tacitly resisted demands by pro-democracy groups and the military for the RSF to be integrated into the armed forces.

Gen Al Burhan insists that he would not sign off on a deal ending the country's current political deadlock if it does not contain clear language on a timeline for the RSF integration.

The two generals — both are rumoured to have political ambitions — jointly staged a military coup in October 2021 that derailed Sudan's fragile democratic transition following the 2019 removal of dictator Omar Al Bashir. The power grab also plunged the country of 44 million into its worst political and economic crises since independence in 1956.

They also co-operated in removing Al Bashir in April 2019 amid a popular uprising against his 29-year rule.

However, differences between the pair began to surface last year, with Gen Dagalo claiming the coup was a mistake that gave Al Bashir loyalists a chance to make a political comeback. He has also accused Gen Al Burhan and other generals of clinging on to power.

Gen Al Burhan, who dismisses the charges, subsequently placed army troops in the capital on a higher alert and beefed up security at the armed forces' headquarters in central Khartoum as tension with the RSF rose.

The deadlock over the RSF integration is delaying the signing of a political settlement that will lead to the military quitting politics and a civilian-led government steering the country for 24 months until elections are held. It also stipulates reform of the army, police and security forces.

The signing of the deal, which was scheduled for April 1, has since been delayed twice.

The RSF earlier said its recent movements were within its mandate and that it co-ordinated its operations with the armed forces.

The RSF issued the statement on Tuesday in response to “misinformation on social media”.

The military's warning on Thursday prompted a flurry of political and diplomatic contacts aimed at preventing the dispute from boiling over into clashes.

Pro-democracy groups and political parties blamed Al Bashir loyalists for engineering the dispute to plunge the country into civil strife.

Special representatives and envoys from France, Germany, Norway, the UK, the US and EU said they were deeply concerned over the “heightened tensions” between the military and the RSF. They also called in a statement on civilian leaders to urgently work to reduce tensions.

Updated: April 18, 2023, 8:48 AM