We are puzzled when we realize the nature of the message Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir wanted to convey through the blatant attack he recently waged against Egypt by accusing it of supplying arms to the anti-government movements in the Darfur region. The Sudanese government presented vehicles and military equipment recently seized during the battles in Darfur as evidence of the Egyptian government helping armed movements in Darfur. This is perhaps the first time that Khartoum has made such unprecedented allegations against its neighbour Egypt, as Cairo has historically openly and quietly supported the Sudanese governments in the recent wars in South Sudan or even in the Darfur region.
President Al-Bashir appeared to be determined to provide indisputable evidence of Egypt’s armed involvement in the Darfur issue. This adds to the tension surrounding the Halayeb Triangle, but this proof seems to be surrounded by a lack of civility, as the types of weapons are not consistent with the heavy armoured vehicles and the guerilla warfare employed by the armed Darfur movements.
The leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the late John Garang, would be angered by the constant question he was asked, i.e. the source of the funding received by his movement, including money and weapons. His response was very simple to the journalists. He would say: “Don’t let your journalistic imagination take you too far. The Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, gifted us enough weapons and equipment to fight several wars. We also received heavy artillery weapons that do not align with our activities. We are an armed movement, we do not need tanks and heavy artillery. How would we get them to our remote areas? Where would we put them and how would we move with them? Naturally, we headed to the international arms market and got rid of them.”
It is therefore understandable and justified to accuse Egypt of interfering by embracing the leaders of some of these groups and providing political and moral support to them, as well as facilitating their movements. It is noteworthy that the Sudanese Ambassador to Cairo, Abdel Mahmoud Abdel Halim, sought to downplay the accusations made by Khartoum towards Egypt. He was quoted by Erem news saying that investigations into the identification of the weapons are underway. He also reiterated that his country was information regarding Al-Bashir’s statement. He called for the need to coordinate with the Egyptian authorities regarding the weapons.
The ambassador also downplayed the accusations made by President Al-Bashir by saying that the news that spread in this regard does not affect the relationship between Sudan and Egypt. This difference between the statements made by the president and ambassador is nothing new regarding the repeated difference of statements by officials in Sudan.
In fact, foreign interference in the events in Darfur has continued to exist, and it has varied with the development of the phases of fighting there. Most of the surrounding countries, such as Egypt, Gaddafi’s Libya, Chad, Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as major countries like America have participated in the events in differing levels and forms. France embraced the Darfur leaders and gave them explicit support, while the US, during the Doha negotiations a few years ago, pushed for a group that brought together Libya and the American Envoy to Darfur, called the Sirte Group.
The important question today, more important than the accusations against Egypt: How did the battles between the Sudanese government and the fighting groups in Darfur erupt in such a disturbing manner and to an extent that made the government deny its own strength to accuse another external party of support?
These recent fierce battles in northeast Darfur crushed the illusions of the Sudanese government that peace has spread in Darfur and that the armed movements have become a thing of the past. In addition to this, the violent fighting in the Marrah Mountains with the Abdel Wahid Nur movement, and more recently with the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), led by Minni Arcua Minnawi, strongly shook one of the conditions for lifting the US embargo on Sudan.
Add to this a number of disturbing phenomena for both the government and the opposing forces, as Darfur has recently witnessed a boom in the arms market including all types of arms. At the same time, the armed groups that the equipped Darfur forces and civil forces accuse the government of supporting and turning a blind eye to their crimes, intimidation and kidnapping of citizens have spread. Instead of the policy of seizing weapons and drying out the sources, which was welcomed in the region previously, the situation is deteriorating and we are witnessing armed tribal wars at an unprecedented rate. Head of the National Umma Party, Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, has recently said that the spread of weapons in Darfur has reached alarming levels, estimating it at about six million pieces of arms, including heaving artillery. This further supports the claims that the government is failing in its campaign to seize weapons from the hands of individual, militias and tribes in the region.
The new battles reinforce a basic statement, i.e., that the situation in Darfur needs a more comprehensive treatment as part of the political situation map in all of Sudan. This means that the issue needs to be looked at as one of the manifestations of the general crisis of governance in Sudan, as what is happening in the region is no different from what is happening in the regions in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Moreover, there is the fragile situation in East Sudan and even in the north, where the issue of building dams and continuous peaceful confrontation, so far, between the people and the state is escalating.
Therefore, military escalation does not help, nor does placing blame on Egypt for alleged intervention or otherwise. Immediate solutions must be found for the deteriorating situation in Darfur, and there must be an acknowledgment of the region’s issue being a political and just issue. The government also needs to involve the Darfur political forces and other political forces directly to find a radical solution, and it must realise that relying on the military solution that it has tried throughout the past years only further complicates the crisis and prolongs the war. The battles have proven its failure.
Finally, the Doha document for the solution to the Darfur crisis is a strong foundation and it must be built upon in accordance with a practical, fair and serious process, larger than the government. The main step in the solution is for the government to abandon the illusion of military power, because the Darfur issue is a complex political issue that cannot be solved by one party, but rather, requires all efforts of peace. Furthermore, there needs to be a genuine conviction within the government regarding the need to try a different approach to end the conflict with the approval of all the components.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 30 May 2017.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.