Sudan's Dagalo says he regrets Darfur violence, pledging to investigate governor's killing

The RSF commander accuses army of providing Darfur tribes with weapons to ignite civil war

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, speaks during a press conference at Rapid Support Forces headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan February 19, 2023. Reuters
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The leader of Sudan's Rapid Support Forces has said that he regrets the recent spate of violence in the western Darfur region and has promised to investigate the killing of a governor there by soldiers suspected to be members of his paramilitary group.

Gen Mohamed Dagalo, better known by his nickname Hemedti, posted an audio message on Twitter on Tuesday in which he labelled the violence in Darfur as tribal and accused the army's intelligence of arming tribes in the area to ignite what he called a civil war.

The audio was the first message released by Gen Dagalo in weeks. He has not been seen in public since the early days of the war, which began in mid-April, fuelling speculation that he may have been injured.

It comes as the capital Khartoum experienced another day of calm on Tuesday, the final day of a 72-hour truce mediated by the US and Saudi Arabia. The truce, which expires on Wednesday morning, is the first to be adhered to by the warring sides.

“We deeply regret the bloody events in Al Geneina,” Gen Dagalo said in the audio message, which was posted with English subtitles.

“We also pay homage to the soul of [Governor of West Darfur state] Khamis Abekr,” he said.

An RSF commission has been created and will travel to Al Geneina to investigate the killing, he said.

The timing of his audio message appears to be an attempt at damage control following strong international condemnation of the RSF's role in the Darfur violence. It also seems designed to salvage the image Gen Dagalo has been trying to build around himself and his RSF as pro-democracy forces.

Al Geneina is Sudan's westernmost city, sitting close to the border with Chad. Witnesses have said that the RSF and allied Arab militiamen last week went on a killing, looting and torching spree against members of the Masalit tribe. At least 1,100 have been killed and many more fled to Chad.

Activists also reported that dozens of women had been raped inside their homes or while trying to flee. Almost all rape cases were blamed on the RSF, whose forerunner is the Janjaweed militia, a notorious group that fought on the government's side during a genocidal civil war in Darfur in the 2000s.

The Janjaweed stands accused of committing large-scale atrocities against civilians in Darfur during the war. Former dictator Omar Al Bashir, who legalised the Janjaweed, was indicted more than a decade ago by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Darfur Governor Mini Arko Minawi has meanwhile urged the UN Security Council to allow the ICC to investigate “crimes and assassinations” that have taken place in Darfur over the past two months.

“What is happening in Darfur now is no less than what had happened in 2003,” he said in a video posted on Monday on social media.

In the capital however, there was a glimpse of hope as the ceasefire continued to hold.

“It's quiet across Khartoum today,” Abdel Rahman Youssef, a resident of Bahri, one of three cities that make up the greater Khartoum area, told The National.

“Some stores are open but not everything is available. My district is generally quiet because many of its residents have left. Generally, we have little reason to celebrate. We need a permanent ceasefire.

“Thieves stole the tyres and battery of my wife's car while parked outside our home. Another batch of thieves later came with a set of tyres and a battery and made away with it.”

At least 3,000 civilians have been killed so far in the war between the army and the RSF, with fighting centred in Khartoum and Darfur. Twice as many have been injured, according to the Ministry of Health.

The war has also created a major humanitarian crisis and forced at least 2.2 million people to flee their homes. Of these, more than 500,000 have found refuge in neighbouring nations, chiefly Egypt, Chad and South Sudan.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 4:22 PM