Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers

The violence in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, began on Jan. 16 in the form of a fistfight. (AFP/File)
The violence in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, began on Jan. 16 in the form of a fistfight. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers

Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers
  • Fresh bloodletting in strife-torn and impoverished region poses major challenge for Khartoum government
  • Experts think end of UNAMID’s peacekeeping mission may have contributed indirectly to outbreak of violence

DUBAI: Just when the international community thought it had one less conflict to contend with, concerns were reignited earlier this month as news broke of tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region. By the time the dust had settled, at least 250 lives had been lost, hundreds of people had suffered injuries and more than 100,000 Sudanese had been displaced in two different states.

Perhaps inevitably, fingers are being pointed at Sudan’s joint-military-civilian government, which last month took responsibility for security in Darfur from the UN and the African Union, whose hybrid UNAMID mission peacekeepers had kept violence somewhat under check in the area for the last 13 years.

Experts think the announcement following a UN Security Council resolution on Dec. 22, 2020, that the UNAMID was ending its mission, indirectly contributed to the latest outbreak of violence. On Dec. 31, the force formally ended its operations and announced plans for a phased withdrawal of its approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six months.




The war had erupted when Darfur’s ethnic minority rebels rose up against dictator Omar Bashir’s Islamist government. (AFP/File)

The violence in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, began on Jan. 16 in the form of a fistfight. Members of the powerful Arab Rizeigat tribe and the non-Arab Massalit tribe got embroiled in the clashes, which claimed the lives of scores of people, including children and members of the security forces, according to the Sudanese doctors’ union.

A flare-up two days later in South Darfur between the Rizeigat and the non-Arab Falata tribe over the killing of a shepherd caused dozens more deaths and another wave of displacement. The Falata are a cattle- and camel-herding people who trace their roots to the Fulani of western Africa.

FASTFACTS

• UNAMID officially ended operations in Darfur on Dec. 31, 2020.

• Sudan government took over responsibility for protection of civilians in the area.

• UNAMID announced phased withdrawal of 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six month.

According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency,  those fleeing the violence into eastern Chad’s Ouaddai province have been forced to seek shelter in remote places that lack basic services or public infrastructure.

In retrospect, warnings by civil society groups, local leaders and experts about the consequences of the UNAMID decision have proved right. Fearing renewed violence, Darfur residents too held protests in late December against the peacekeepers’ departure.

To them, it was not just the lack of experience of the Hamdok government that was a cause for concern. The calm that had prevailed since the arrival of UNAMID was hardly an indicator of the situation on the ground.

While the main conflict has subsided over the years, ethnic and tribal violence still erupts up periodically, mostly involving semi-nomadic Arab pastoralists and settled farmers.




Tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region have killed at least 250 people. (AFP/File)

“The fighting wasn’t quiet as sudden as people thought; there had been some clashes in December for example,” Jonas Horner, senior analyst on Sudan at the International Crisis Group, told Arab News.

“Violence has been actually bubbling up in Darfur quiet consistently for some months, and this really undercuts the premise that security has improved (sufficiently) for UNAMID to leave. I think the auspiciousness of the moment for this violence really has much more to do with the end of the (UNAMID) mandate in Darfur. This matters of course because (the violence erupted) just two weeks after the mission wrapped up, taking into account the drawdown period.”

To be fair, the UN decision to withdraw the peacekeepers from Darfur was taken on the basis of the promises made by the Khartoum authorities. “I think that is also a thing to notice of course: The government didn’t pass its first test at providing security,” Horner said. “This was the period when they were supposed to take over from UNAMID the key responsibility for safety and security of Darfurians.”

The Sudan government’s confidence in its ability to take charge of Darfur’s security may have stemmed from a peace agreement that was signed in October in the capital of South Sudan, Juba, by most of the warring groups, which obliges them to lay down their weapons.




UN decision to withdraw the peacekeepers from Darfur was taken on the basis of the promises made by the Khartoum authorities. (AFP/File)

Two groups have refused to join the peace deal, including the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, which is believed to have considerable support in Darfur.

Although the clashes in West Darfur and South Darfur appear not to involve any of the peace deal’s signatories, a combination of poverty, ethnic strife and violence has left the region awash in weapons and its people divided by rivalries over land and water.

Amani Al-Taweel, a researcher and expert on Sudanese affairs at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Strategic and Political Studies Center, says the Khartoum authorities failed to deploy security forces in a timely manner to Darfur, despite the region’s history of skirmishes between tribes and ethnic groups with a potential for triggering off wider conflicts.




Amani Al-Taweel says Khartoum authorities failed to deploy security forces in a timely manner to Darfur. (Supplied)

“Darfur’s long-simmering tensions have been compounded by the entry of new groups from West Africa, the lack of a comprehensive resolution, and the absence of the one of the most important militias from the list of the Juba agreement signatories,” Al-Taweel told Arab News. “The combination of all these factors makes the situation in Darfur highly combustible.”

Darfur became synonymous with ethnic cleansing and genocide since conflict erupted in 2003 and left roughly 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the UN. The recent fighting in El-Geneina was centered around a camp for people who had been displaced by said conflict.

The war had erupted when Darfur’s ethnic minority rebels rose up against dictator Omar Bashir’s Islamist government, which responded by recruiting and arming a notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed.

Since the overthrow of Bashir in April 2019 following large-scale protests against his rule, Sudan has been undergoing a fragile transition. Justice for the people of Darfur was a key rallying cry for civilian groups who backed the removal of Bashir after nearly three decades in power.

The Transitional Military Council that replaced him transferred executive power in Sept. 2019 to a mixed civilian–military Sovereignty Council and a civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok.

Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged genocide and war crimes, is currently in custody and on trial in Khartoum. But as the latest outbreak of violence in Darfur shows, the wounds of war will take time to heal.

“On paper, the Juba peace agreement is the main avenue for exit for this kind of violence,” Horner told Arab News, adding that there can be no military solution to a conflict whose roots lie in disputes over sharing of land, water and resources.

“The (Sudanese) government has dispatched a high-level delegation to El-Geneina and its surrounding areas, and that will primarily include the military. This is again a military solution that I don’t think this is a sustainable response to the problem.




Jonas Horner

“There is a need for utilization of local administration leaders, who will be very keen to put the violence back in the box. Admittedly, some recognized militia groups are involved in the latest fighting and they are much less likely to take orders from the local administrations leaders.”

Given the current abundance of goodwill toward Sudan, could foreign countries play a role in defusing the situation in Darfur? “From a security perspective, it is probably too late for the international community to come in,” said Horner.

“The Security Council has wrapped up the UNAMID mandate,” said Horner, adding that the new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) covers the entire country, not just Darfur.

“UNITAMS is under Chapter 6 mission at the UN level, which means it does not include an armed presence. There are some troops left from UNAMID who are supervising and protecting during the drawdown period, but I don’t anticipate they would be utilized to support in a peace keeping or peace-making venture in El-Geneina or South Darfur.”

Overall, the Hamdok government has won praise for taking bold steps to clear the way for Sudan’s political and economic recovery. The recent removal by the US of Sudan from its State Sponsors of Terrorism List will allow the country to have access to international funds and investment, including the International Monetary Fund.

However, festering problems and disputes of the kind that led to the fresh bloodbath in Darfur have the potential to undo many of the gains made since the ouster of Bashir.

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion
Updated 54 min 39 sec ago

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

DUBAI: Iran was most likely behind an explosion that occurred earlier this week on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel in the Gulf of Oman, the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said. 
The MV Helios Ray, which was carrying vehicles in the Gulf was struck on Febriuary 25.
“The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the belief that Iran was responsible, but it must still be verified," Gantz said in an interview with Israeli state television Kan.

“Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context that is my assessment,” he added.And Gantz said that it was known that Iran was intending to target Israeli assets and citizens.
Top Israeli defense and political leaders will discuss on Sunday their response to the apparent attack, Kan reported citing officials who have said it "crossed a red line."

The explosion did not cause any casualties but left two 1.5-meter-diameter holes in the side of the vessel.

The MV Ray Helios arrived in Dubai's port for repairs Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

 The Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray was seen sitting at dry dock facilities in Dubai by an AP journalist. 

Reuters quoted a statement by a spokesman for Dubai state port operator DP World saying that “an assessment can be made” when the ship arrives. DP World owns and operates the dry docks, where ship repairs and maintenance are carried out.

Iranian authorities have not publicly commented on the ship.


Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib
Updated 28 February 2021

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

DUBAI: Yemen’s information minister has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis in the governorate of Marib that “cannot be contained” due to continued fighting by the Iran-backed Houthi militia. 

Minister Muammar al-Eryani told the country’s state news agency Saba that the governorate holds the biggest number of refugee families, who have been displaced due to the ongoing Houthi violence. 

Eryani said Marib had received more than two million refugees who have settled there since the war broke out, saying they make up 60 percent of refugees in the country. Those refugees represent 7.5 percent of the total population in Yemen.  

The minister was citing a report on from the Executive Unit for IDPs Camps Management that was released Friday. 


Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
Updated 28 February 2021

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
  • He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”

ISTANBUL: Mujdat Gezen’s half-century career as an acclaimed Turkish writer and actor has included awards, a stint as a UN goodwill ambassador and a taste of prison after a 1980 putsch.
Now aged 77, the wry-witted comedian and poet with an easy smile and a bad back risks returning to jail on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”
“I am even banned from appearing in crossword puzzles,” Gezen quipped.
Gezen landed in court with fellow comedian Metin Akpinar, 79, over comments the pair made during a television show they starred in on opposition Halk TV in 2018.
In the broadcast, Gezen told Erdogan to “know your place.”
“Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place,” Gezen said on air.
His parter Akpinar went one step further, saying that “if we don’t become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar.”
These are risky comments to make in a country still reeling from a sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a failed coup in 2016.
Their trial is coming with Erdogan rattled by a burst of student protests that hint at Turks’ impatience with his commanding rule as prime minister and president since 2003.
Prosecutors want to put the two veteran celebrities behind bars for up to four years and eight months. The verdict is expected on Monday.

Jailed over book
Thousands of Turks, from a former Miss Turkey to school children, have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media and television.
Bristling at the jokes and comments, Erdogan warned in 2018 that his critics “will pay the price.”
“The next day,” Gezen told AFP in an interview by telephone, “police turned up and I was summoned to give a statement to prosecutors.”
The knock on the door reminded Gezen of how he ended up being dragged before the courts after spending 20 days in jail when a military junta overthrew Turkey’s civilian government at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Gezen’s book about Nazim Hikmet — perhaps Turkey’s most famous 20th century poet, who happened to be a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963 — was taken off the shelves after that coup.
“I was chained up while being taken from prison to court with a gang of 50 criminals, including murderers and smugglers,” he recalled.
He was freed by the court in 1980, and may yet be acquitted on Monday.
Still, Gezen is uncomfortable with the similarities, and with Turkey’s trajectory under Erdogan.
“There is a record number of journalists in jail — we have never seen this in the history of the republic. That’s what upsets me,” he said.

Irritable dictator
An author of more than 50 books and founder of his own art center in Istanbul, Gezen says he has “either criticized or parodied politicians to their faces” for decades without going to jail.
His popularity and resolve earned him a role in 2007 as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s relief fund.
But he fears that Turkey’s tradition of outspoken artists — “art is by its nature oppositional,” he remarked — is wilting under Erdogan.
“We now have self-censorship. But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical,” he said.
“The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It’s the artists who must decide.”
To be on the safe side, Gezen’s lawyers now read his books before publication to avoid legal problems.
“It is risky in Turkey,” he observed.
Many of the opposition media outlets that once flourished have been either closed or taken over by government allies, leaving independent voices with even fewer options.
But he remains doggedly optimistic, calling democracy in Turkey something tangible but just out of reach, like the shore for a stranded boat.
“And then someone up on the mast will cry: Land ahoy!“


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by autumn 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.