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The UK should not be co-opted by the RSF militia and the UAE

May 28, 2024 at 11:00 pm

People fleeing the Sudanese war disembark a truck which has brought them to Renk from the Joda border crossing in South Sudan on 19 March 2024 [Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

The impact of the ongoing war in Sudan between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has been devastating; thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced, but a quick analysis will reveal that this war is also waged by foreign actors who aim to advance their long-term interests in the country. Most recently, while officially declaring neutrality, the UK started insidiously leaning towards the RSF militia and the UAE, the militia’s main sponsor. Certainly, this stance is prolonging the war and the suffering of the Sudanese.  Moreover, it causes severe damage to the reputation of the UK and the role it is playing in International politics.

In 2013, the RSF emerged primarily from the restructuring of the notorious Janjaweed militia to support the central government’s counter-insurgency operations in Darfur and South Kordofan. In 2017, the Sudanese Parliament passed a law that recognised the militia officially and organised its activities. Over the years, the militia has reportedly committed countless crimes and atrocities during the ongoing war, including the destruction of villages, the killing of protesters, sexual violations and rape, mass killings, unlawful detentions, the targeting of hospitals and churches and attacks on journalists and media institutions, in addition to ethnic-based killings and recruiting children as soldiers during the ongoing war.

READ: Violent attacks on schools surge fourfold in Sudan

The UK constructively addressed the war in Sudan on many levels. For instance, it announced doubling the value of the humanitarian aid and dedicated part of it to UNICEF and to support food assistance and support for gender-based violence.  The UK also called several times and endorsed a ceasefire, in addition to condemning the escalation of the war. The UK government also imposed sanctions on companies affiliated with the conflict.

Sadly, the UK’s position towards Sudan has been shifting to be more aligned with the goals of the RSF and the UAE.

In May 2023, the RSF militia launched a campaign to disinform the UK parliament members about its violations on the ground, the militia sent, through a private equity firm based in Dubai, memos and briefing to the MPs that contained unfounded allegations about the Sudanese Army. Recently, a news report exposed that officers from the UK Foreign Office held a secret meeting with RSF, a step that followed the militia’s progress on the ground and was denounced by rights group.

For several years, the UAE has supported the militia with money, hosted its social media team and arranged for the militia leader’s diplomatic travels. In addition, under the disguise of humanitarian assistance, the UAE established an airport east of Chad. The UAE has been providing military support to the militia; the UAE’s goal is that, once the militia takes over Sudan, it will readily secure its economic and political interests in the country that is represented in dismantling the Islamist, holding the grip in ports east of Sudan and continuing exploiting the country’s mineral and agricultural resources.

To protect its huge investment in the RSF militia, the UAE has been working ceaselessly to influence, or, at least, sideline, the UK.  After Sudan requested the UN Council to consider investigating the role of the UAE in supporting the militia, the UAE rushed to prevent the UK from backing this step at all costs by canceling many ministerial meetings with UK officials and snubbing London’s Lord Mayor. Thus far, its effort resulted in pressuring the UK to prevent Sudan from participating in a meeting where one of its agendas is discussing the UAE and Chad involvement and support of the RSF.

Earlier this month, the UK Trade Minister covertly visited the UAE to calm the environment between the two countries and seek new investment opportunities. Obviously, the UAE is leveraging its huge investment in the UK to influence its political stance towards Sudan.

Several practical and moral reasons should prevent the UK from backing the RSF and UAE. For instance, the UK, by covering up the UAE and impeding the investigation of its role, is risking its reputation and being part of the ongoing genocidal cycle in Darfur AND supporting the expansion of Wagner, which is now cooperating with RSF,  smuggling  Sudanese gold, and transferring it to Russia through the UAE. The UK should not legitimise the RSF whose leader once threatened to send the whole country into chaos if requested to integrate his troops into the army, a statement that exposes how RSF has no political project and will never be part of stability in Sudan.

OPINION: Hazy geopolitics mean Sudan’s war rages largely unseen

Needless to say, the RSF-UAE coalition is harming the UK itself.  For instance, most recently, the UK started to see Sudanese immigrants at its border, who are fleeing the war, in a scenario where the RSF emerges victorious.  The UK should expect a massive flow of immigrants escaping the massacres and violations. It is worth mentioning that the RSF leader will be ready to weaponise the immigration issue. For instance, in December 2021, the RSF leader warned Europe of an influx of immigrants if it does not support his then-military coup, this warning reveals.   Moreover, UK watchdog groups have warned that the UAE’s growing influence is subverting  democracy in the country and its independence.

The Sudanese community in the UK expressed its anger against the UAE intervention and disapproval of the UK government’s current position. In April 2024, the Darfur Union in the United Kingdom called for expansion sanctions on the RSF and UAE and also criticised the UK government’s approach to the crisis. Sudanese in different parts of the UK took to the streets and in front of the UAE embassy demanding it to stop sponsoring the RSF militia.

Previously, the UK took several strict measures against the RSF and the UAE. For instance, In March 2024, the UK parliament member, Vicky Ford, shared a statement on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan that requested the UAE to stop funnelling arms to Sudan and also condemned the violence and the systemic ethnic cleansing by the RSF members in Darfur. Moreover, the UK also imposed sanctions on companies affiliated with the RSF militia. These steps show that many free voices in the UK understand the brutal nature of the militia and are ready to confront the UAE.

While I am writing this article, the RSF militia is besieging El-Fashir city, the last haven for millions of civilians in Darfur. Concurrently, refugee camps are being obliterated by the militia. Experts and observers are warning of another impending genocide funded by the UAE and executed by the RSF against the non-Arabic tribes who represent the majority of the city. The UK, as a pen holder in the UN for Sudan, should stand on the right side of history and abstain from backing the UAE and prioritise the commercial interest over justice, freedom and lives of the Sudanese people.

READ: Residents cower as fighting picks up in Sudan El-Fasher

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.