Security SituationViolence in the Muhajeriya region intensified to such an extent that on 2 February the Sudanese government warned the UNAMID force to withdraw for its own safety. The government made clear its intention to take the town from rebel group JEM which took over on 15 January. A rebel spokesman stated that “Khartoum’s contemptuous ultimatum to UNAMID seems to be final and not subject to negotiation. Government forces are already advancing towards Muhajeriya from three fronts.” Rebels urged UNAMID not to retreat and to act according to its mandate; to protect Darfuri civilians. Ahmed Hussein Adam, spokesman for JEM said “the UN and the international community as a whole should exercise their responsibility to protect the civilian population of Muhajeriya. We urge them equally to take prompt action to enforce the UN Resolutions regarding hostile GoS flights over Darfur and blatant attacks against innocent civilians.”
After some speculation that UNAMID may comply with the GoS’ demands, the peacekeeping force released a statement reiterating their commitment to the Darfuri civilians and stating their intention to remain in the area. Head of UN peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy informed reporters that the UN and the AU made the difficult decision of maintaining their force in the region despite increasing danger. Le Roy stated "We have decided to remain in Muhajaria because more than 10,000 displaced people are there and we cannot leave them without protection."
The UN did confirm, however, that following the government warning they decided to speak to JEM to urge them to consider the possible future civilian casualties should they continue to maintain control over the town. The UN Secretary General confirmed that he had “urged the JEM to withdraw... in order to avoid an escalation of violence, and the Sudanese government to use maximum restraint.” US diplomats also followed suit, encouraging JEM to retreat. 5,000 civilians had recently gathered around the peacekeeping base fearful of the renewed attack and the UN were left concerned regarding their protection due to the small number of peacekeepers in the area (only 196). JEM, initially rejected the appeals to withdraw, replying that they would still be willing to cooperate with UNAMID. However, soon after they announced their intention to retreat from the town despite the government rejecting their proposal of the area becoming a demilitarised zone.
The rebel group withdrew from Muhajeriya on 4 February and soon after met with the joint mediator Rodolphe Adada to discuss future peace plans in a positive step towards the end of violence in the town. The GoS used this JEM move to feign victory over the rebel group, stating that “the Armed Forces have... captured Muhajeriya area from JEM and is pursuing the fleeing remnants of the rebel movements.” However, these claims were countered both by JEM itself and the UN. The UN confirmed that the rebel group JEM had officially withdrawn from the town after appeals for civilian protection from both UNAMID and the US. JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim confirmed that his decision stemmed his talks with Ban Ki-Moon and AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping. The move was applauded by the international community and Rodolphe Adada who said “the withdrawal no doubt saved many lives and prevented tragic consequences for civilians.” JEM also welcomed UNAMID’s decision to stay in the region and help protect civilians. UNAMID also confirmed that, despite the withdrawal, the armed forces were conducting patrols around the town and shootings and aerial bombardments were still occurring.
On Friday 6 February it was confirmed that officials representing JEM will meet with Sudanese government officials in Qatar in a bid to secure a lasting peace agreement. The talks were scheduled for the following Monday and would have entailed a one-on-one session between the two belligerents. However, talks were put back until the Tuesday and the importance of such talks was dismissed by other rebel factions. The talks were opposed vehemently by SLA-MM leader Minni Minawi who admitted that the deal he signed with the government was lacking because it was only signed by one rebel group. He stated that any agreement solely between JEM and the government would “be lacking even further...It is a major disaster.” He dismissed JEM for thinking that they were the only power in Darfur. SLM leader Al-Nur also expressed his concern that the new talks had the sole purpose of putting pressure on the UN to delay the ICC decision. Furthermore, a different faction of JEM added “these talks will be a replication of the Abuja agreement in a more frail form and will undoubtedly contribute to complicating the problem rather than solving it.” There have been strong suspicions by all parties that JEM is being encouraged to become the sole power in the region and this is causing increasing and worrying friction between rebels.
However, JEM countered claims that their talks would be linked to the ICC decision. Khalil Ibrahim stated “the Movement of Justice and Equality would not impede the course of justice in Darfur and if the talks constitute an escape gate for the regime, we will certainly close it.” HE described the current talks in Doha as “exploratory” and admitted that JEM were still unsure as to the government’s seriousness.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed his concern over the continuing violence in the region. He stated “I am extremely concerned at the impact the fighting is having on the already dire humanitarian situation in Muhajiriya.” However, in a positive step, aid agencies and NGOs returned to Muhajeriya on 5 February to resume their work in the region and aid the thousands affected by the recent violence. The return of the organisations came just days after JEM retreated from the area. A first assessment found that civilians were in urgent need of medicine, food and water. The humanitarian coordinator for the UN announced “There are at least 5000 people in the town and we are doing everything possible to restart operations immediately.” The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres had evacuated their premises in the town on 26th January and has returned to find the base destroyed by fire.
After finally being allowed to fully assess the damage done to the area, the UN affirmed the extent of the disruption and violence. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator estimated that at least 30,000 people had fled from their homes during the recent fighting. He voiced his concerns, stating “as each day passes, people’s need for assistance increases and the humanitarian imperative to reach them becomes more pressing.” The influx of newly displaced people has swelled the ranks of the already numerous amounts of IDPs; 520 people arrived at the Al Salam refugee camp and 1,400 sought refuge at Zam Zam camp. The overwhelming majority of the new arrivals are women and children.
Human Rights Situation
The Sudanese Government’s crackdown on human rights activists has also affected journalists reporting on the violence in Darfur. Journalists may enter the region after applying for a permit but they face tough restrictions on their movement. This week US diplomats have accused the GoS of expelling a Canadian-Egyptian journalist after she attempted to investigate an arms manufacturer based in Khartoum. Heba Aly, who reports for US news agency Bloomberg and IRIN, the UN news service, was contacted by Sudanese officials and ordered to leave the country. The Sudanese Security Service released a statement saying she had been “practising activities outside her assignment which harm Sudanese national security.” The reporter’s permit had run out in January but she had applied repeatedly for an extension. Whilst Sudanese officials blamed this “violation of passport and immigration regulations,” the US embassy lamented the incident stating it “condemns this expulsion and continues to deplore infringements by the Government of Sudan upon freedom of the press and expression.” Local Sudanese journalists also complain of ill treatment, often suffering from censorship and arbitrary detention. Reporters Without Border has said it is currently investigating the case.
UNAMID reported that one of its helicopters was fired upon on 9 February. The attackers, who remain unknown, shot at the helicopter damaging the windscreen. Fortunately, no-one was injured but any such attack on a UN plane, which was on a food mission, is very worrying.
The Joint Special Representative for UNAMID, Rodolphe Adada, visited Muhajeriya on 8February where civilian displacement is occurring daily. He reaffirmed to IDPs that “UNAMID is here to stay” and reassured them that the force would continue its work in the area."
Following the JEM withdrawal, the rebel group and UNAMID have set up a joint committee in order to prevent any future Muhajeriyas from reoccurring. Rodolphe Adada met with the JEM chairman in Chad to discuss ways they could enhance cooperation. UNAMID spokesman announced that “the meeting was called as part of UNAMID’s efforts to establish a good working relationship with all parties involved in the Darfur conflict” and used the occasion to reiterate UNAMID’s neutrality when dealing with all sides to the conflict.
The ICC and Sudan
On 5 January, the new US administration expressed its full approval of the ICC move when a White House spokesman declared “It is in our country’s interest that the most heinous of criminals, like the perpetrators of the genocide in Darfur, are held accountable.” Despite the country’s somewhat controversial relationship with the ICC, of which it is not a member, its decision to pursue justice in Darfur was welcomed by both the Bush administration and Obama’s. However, during the interview the spokesman also hinted that Obama may not be opposed to now joining the ICC treaty, although no official statement was made.
This week President Al-Bashir denied that the impending ICC decision had provoked any divisions within his party. He remained defiant that no ICC decision would “result in a military coup or dissent among the NCP members.” Rumours of a power struggle between Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Presidential Assistant Nafi Ali Nafi were dismissed as “wishful thinking.” The crackdown on any dissent has been firm, with opposition leader Al-Turabi still in detention after commenting that Al-Bashir should consider cooperating with the court.