Militia commander waits in wings after Bashir ousted

Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir addresses supporters during his visit to the war-torn Darfur region, in Bilal, Darfur, Sudan. (Reuters/File)
Updated 23 April 2019
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Militia commander waits in wings after Bashir ousted

  • Hemedti has become the second most powerful man in Sudan

KHARTOUM: When Omar Bashir wanted protection from rivals during his long rule as president of Sudan, he turned to Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a commander of widely feared Arab militias.

Gen. Dagalo, who goes by the nickname Hemedti, could soon become the most powerful man in Sudan himself following the military coup that ousted his old ally on April 11, Western diplomats and opponents say.

Hemedti has played down his political ambitions. But as deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) set up by the military to run Sudan for up to two years until elections, he has become the second most powerful man in the country. 

The Western envoys and opposition figures, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, say Hemedti is hungry for more power, and that he helped force out Bashir after 30 years in office because he has set his sights on the presidency.

“Hemedti planned on becoming the No. 1 man in Sudan. He has unlimited ambition,” said an opposition figure who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

With the TMC under pressure from the opposition and protesters to hand power to civilians swiftly, Hemedti and other generals risk being sidelined soon.

In his new role, Hemedti has been meeting Western ambassadors and is already well placed to influence events from his office in the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum.

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) he commands are deployed across the city and he is backed by Gulf Arab states that have pledged billions of dollars to support Sudan since the coup.
His rise is a concern for many of the protesters who helped bring down Bashir and are now blocking the Defence Ministry and some surrounding roads as they press demands for a quick transition to civilian rule.
Militias he commanded were accused by human rights groups of genocide during the war than began in Darfur in 2003, allegations that Bashir's government denied.
Hemedti and the RSF did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a speech to army officers on Monday, he said: "I personally ... don't want to be vice-president. I ... don't want an inch more than the Rapid Support Forces."
He said the priority was to defend Sudan and reach agreement with the people of Sudan on how the country should be run. But he added: "We won't allow chaos."
He spoke in favour of a "government of competencies, technocratic, for all the people, with no relation to any party."
"EITHER VICTORY OR EGYPT"
Protesters have expressed fears that Sudan is going the same way as Egypt did after the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. One of their chants has been "either victory or Egypt".
Egypt's armed forces chief effectively brushed Mubarak aside when it became clear security forces could not contain street protests against the veteran leader.
Two years later, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi, with the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Sisi went on to win elections in 2014 and 2018, on both occasions with 97 percent of the vote.
A coalition of protesters and opposition groups said on Sunday the TMC was not serious about handing over power to civilians.
TMC head Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan told state television the formation of a joint military-civilian council -- one of the activists' demands -- was being considered.
But the TMC warned against blocking roads and said people "exercising the role of the police and security services in clear violation of the laws and regulations" was unacceptable.
A senior Western diplomat said it was unlikely the TMC would hand over power to civilians.
"It will be very hard to remove Hemedti from the political theatre because he has a force at his disposal," said the diplomat.
One option the TMC might consider is allowing the formation of a government, provided the generals have the ultimate say on decision-making, some political analysts said.
"If the council (TMC) stays in power, a civilian cabinet will have no authority," said Khalid Omar Youssef, General Secretary of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party.
FROM FIGHTER TO COMMANDER
Born in 1975, Hemedti is much younger than the other officers on the TMC and is the only general on the council who did not graduate from a military college.
He was initially a fighter before becoming a commander of the Arab militias that were later transformed into the RSF and were accused by human rights groups of burning villages, raping and executing civilians in Darfur.
Hemedti's emergence captured the attention of Bashir, whose government denied the allegations of atrocities and said only rebels were being targeted. About 300,000 people were killed in Darfur and 2 million were displaced.
Hemedti won the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia after sending his forces to fight on their side in Yemen's civil war.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have not publicly called for a quick transition to democracy in Sudan. Both countries declined comment on their involvement in Sudan. The Gulf oil powers said on Sunday they had agreed to send Sudan $3 billion worth of aid, throwing a lifeline to the country's new military leaders.
Although the RSF lack the discipline of Sudan's regular army, they are widely seen as fearless fighters hardened by war in Darfur against rebels who rose up against the government. They are armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns mounted on pick up trucks.
"Cooperation between Hemedti's Rapid Support Forces and the army is strong and there is no way they will agree to hand over power," said the diplomat.
Opposition figures said Hemedti could wield huge influence behind the scenes if he did not win power personally. Such an arrangement would have parallels with Algeria, where the military has been a kingmaker for decades and forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign this month following protests.


Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

CHICAGO: US Special Envoy for Sudan Donald E. Booth on Tuesday said that leaders of the military government and the opposition in the African nation are moving toward a reconciliation, but added “there is a lot” that still needs to be done.
Booth, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, is charged with leading the US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.
Both sides in Sudan agreed a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new “Sovereign Council,” before constitutional changes can be made. Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.
“That political declaration really addresses the structure of a transitional government and not the entire structure,” Booth said. “(The July 17 agreement) has put off the question of the legislative council. It is a document that is the beginning of a process. We welcome the agreement on that but there are still a lot of negotiations to be conducted on what the Sudanese call their constitutional declaration.”
The envoy said he expects the Sovereign Council “will have to address what the functions of the different parts of the transitional government will be,” such as the roles and powers of “the sovereign council, the prime minister, the cabinet and, ultimately, the legislative cabinet. Who will lead that transitional government is still undecided.”
The crisis in Sudan came to a head in December 2018 when President Omar Al-Bashir imposed emergency austerity measures that prompted widespread public protests.
He was overthrown by the Sudanese military in April 2018 as a result of the unrest but the protests continued. Demonstrations in Khartoum turned violent on June 3 when 150 civilians were killed, sparking nationwide protests in which nearly a million people took part.
Booth said these protests had changed the dynamics in Sudan, forcing the military to negotiate with the people.
“The 3rd of June was a signal of the limits of people power,” he said. “But then there was the 30th of June, in which close to a million people took to the streets outside of Sudan and I think that demonstrated the limits of the military power over the people.”
Some have asked whether individuals might face prosecution for past human-rights violations, including Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Gen. Hemeti, who was appointed head of the ruling transitional military council in April after Al-Bashir was removed from power. Booth said this would be a decision for the new transitional government.
“One has to recognize that General Hemeti is a powerful figure currently in Sudan,” he said. “He has considerable forces loyal to him. He has significant economic assets as well. So, he has been a prominent member of this transitional military council. But he has been one of the chief negotiators for the forces of Freedom and Change.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Both sides in Sudan agreed on a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new ‘Sovereign Council,’ before constitutional changes can be made.

• Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.

• We will have to wait and see what type of agreement Sudanese will come up with, says US envoy.

“We will have to wait and see what type of agreement they will come up with…we don’t want to prejudge where the Sudanese will come out on that. It is their country and their decision on how they move forward. Our goal is to support the desire for a truly civilian-led transition.”
Booth noted that although sanctions on Sudan have been lifted, the designation of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism remains in force. He also said he expects the pressures and restrictions on journalists covering Sudan’s transition to ease as progress continues toward redefining Sudan’s government.
“As you can see, there is still a lot that the Sudanese need to do,” said Booth. “But we fully support the desire of the Sudanese people to have a civilian-led transitional government that will tackle the issues of constitutional revision and organizing elections, free and fair democratic elections, at the end of the transitional period.”
He added that the US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process, including expanded religious freedoms, an end to the recruitment of children for military service, and improving Sudan’s economy.
“I think it is important we give the Sudanese space to negotiate with each other, and to continue to express our support to get to the civilian-led transition government that will be broadly supported by the Sudanese people,” said Booth.