Sudan's military chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has issued a decree dissolving the paramilitary group his troops have been fighting since April, a move analysts warn could complicate efforts to end the conflict.
In a separate decree, Gen Al Burhan repealed a law passed by Sudan's parliament in 2017 that legitimised the Rapid Support Forces – the forerunner of which was the notorious Darfur-based Janjaweed militia.
The decrees, issued late on Wednesday night, are likely to fuel the war between the army and the RSF and significantly reduce the chances of a negotiated settlement of the conflict, Sudanese analysts told The National.
“The Rapid Support Forces now have no choice but to keep on fighting,” said analyst Fayez Al Zaky.
“How can there be negotiations now if one of the two warring sides has legally ceased to exist?
“And there can be no more talk now either about integrating the Rapid Support Forces into the army as part of a political settlement.
“The road to a diplomatic solution has been cut off.”
The decrees follow an exchange of scathing criticisms in recent days between Gen Al Burhan and his one-time deputy and ally, RSF commander Gen Mohamed Dagalo. The pair publicly called each other traitors, liars and criminals bent on the destruction of Sudan.
“The decree is founded on the consequences of the rebellion of these forces against the state and the grave violations they committed against citizens and the deliberate destruction of the nation's infrastructure,” one decree reads.
The decrees came a day after the US imposed sanctions on the deputy leader of the RSF, Abdel Rahim Dagalo, in connection with rights abuses by his fighters.
Abdel Rahim Dagalo, the older brother of the RSF commander, described the US decision as “unfair” and “ill-informed” in an interview with Sky News Arabia.
He also said Gen Al Burhan did not have the legitimacy to dissolve the RSF.
Gen Al Burhan has already removed Mohamed Dagalo from his role as deputy chairman of Sudan's ruling, military-led Sovereignty Council. Gen Al Burhan is the council's chairman.
He has also decreed the freezing of the RSF's assets and bank accounts and repeatedly called on the paramilitary group's members to join the armed forces.
Gen Al Burhan has also instructed army officers seconded to the RSF to return to their original units.
Civil society groups warned that Gen Al Burhan's actions could lead to an escalation of violence.
“There will be a violent reaction from the Rapid Support Forces to the decrees,” predicted Bushra Al Saem, a senior leader of the Forces for Freedom and Change pro-democracy coalition.
The group partnered the military in a civilian-led transitional government toppled in 2021 by a coup jointly led by Gen Al Burhan and Mohamed Dagalo.
“It's a dangerous and ill-timed provocation that will only fuel the war.”
Gen Al Burhan's decrees were issued hours after news broke that at least 32 civilians had been killed and dozens injured in artillery strikes by the army on Tuesday, one of the highest tolls from a single day of fighting since war broke out in April, according to the activist group Emergency Lawyers.
The group said the strike was in Ombada in the city of Omdurman, which sits across the Nile from Khartoum. The western neighbourhood has been the site of several deadly strikes.
The army has been using heavy artillery and air strikes to target positions of the RSF in Khartoum, causing heavy civilian casualties. The RSF is in near total control on the ground in Khartoum, with thousands of its fighters sent deep into residential areas.
After nearly five months of war between the army and the RSF, the move to dissolve the paramilitary group appears mostly symbolic. But it does, however, effectively reduce the RSF to a mutinous group of fighters and could affect its relations with countries in the region with which it has established cordial relations.
RSF forerunner the Janjaweed fought on the government's side to suppress an uprising by ethnic African groups in Darfur in the 2000s. It is accused of war crimes in that conflict, which killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.
Sudan's former leader Omar Al Bashir, ousted in 2019, later legitimised the group, making it a branch of the armed forces and giving Mohamed Dagalo, who did not attend the country's military academy, the rank of general.
The RSF continued to enjoy a large degree of autonomy and the patronage of Al Bashir, who was widely believed to have used the paramilitary to protect his rule against possible attempts by army generals to replace him.
The RSF moved quickly after the removal of Al Bashir to develop its resources, building an economic empire centred on gold mining and growing into a well-armed force of 100,000 fighters.
Since the start of the war, the RSF has been accused of large-scale looting in Khartoum and of carrying out attacks on ethnic African communities in Darfur that killed thousands and forced many more to flee to neighbouring Chad.
The group has also been accused of sexual violence in Khartoum and Darfur.
“The US sanctions issued against me are unfair and rely on sources opposed to the Rapid Support Forces. The US sanctions should have targeted the other party in this war instead,” the Abdel Rahim Dagalo, told Sky News Arabia.
“The Rapid Support Forces are committed to the law and do not interfere in tribal battles in Darfur. The Sudanese military intelligence are the ones who are arming the tribes in Darfur and sowing discord among them,” he said.