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Where Does the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North Get its Weapons?

By Eric Reeves

September 23, 2012 (SSNA) -- We have heard for many months now accusations from the Obama administration, the UN, the African Union, and other international actors that there is somehow an equivalent responsibility on the part of Juba and Khartoum for the arming of military "proxies": Khartoum arming, supplying, and providing sanctuary to brutal renegade militia forces in the South; Juba supplying (so it is claimed) substantial aid to the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North, particularly to the forces of Abdel Aziz al-Hilu in the Nuba Mountains.  What has long been striking about this version of "moral equivalence" is the dramatic disparity in the evidence available Notably Khartoum, which is most insistent in claiming that Juba is assisting the SPLA-North, has provided no evidence of any kind. 

The Small Arms Survey has provided many highly detailed, authoritative analyses of weapons captured from Khartoum-backed militia groups in the South, and these make indisputably clear the regime's very substantial support for men like David Yau Yau, Johnson Olonyi, Gabriel Tanginya ("Tang"), and formerly George Athor (now dead) and Peter Gadet (who has yet again switched sides).  By contrast, there is almost no evidence—from the Small Arms Survey or anyone else—of Juba's assistance to the SPLA-North. 

No doubt some food and fuel has made its way into the Nuba from the South, and perhaps small amounts of military equipment, although there is no physical evidence of weapons transfers.  And there can be no doubt about the South's deep sense of common cause with the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  Indeed, the SPLA-North is made up primarily of men who fought in the civil war alongside the South, although Khartoum's campaign of extermination has had the effect of bringing under arms many men whose families have been killed, their lands rendered useless by aerial bombardment, and who endure the punishing effects of impending famine.

But there is simply no comparing Khartoum's support for military proxies in South Sudan with what Juba has provided to the Nuba, especially since the SPLA-N retained a great deal of the weaponry from the time during which is was part of a united SPLA (they formally split a year ago).  Khartoum's support for military proxies in the South extends well back into the early 1990s, and continued in especially destructive fashion during the "oil war" (roughly 1998-2002).  This regime policy extended to giving support to Joseph Kony's maniacal and unspeakably barbarous Lord's Resistance Army.  As the International Crisis Group reported in 2006:

"Khartoum now admits that the LRA was given sanctuary and logistical support as part of a destabilization strategy and scorched earth campaign against Sudanese civilians.” (“A Strategy for Ending Northern Uganda’s Crisis,” ICG, January 11, 2006, page 4,

Those who have attempted to establish an equality between the support offered to "proxies" by Juba and by Khartoum conveniently elide any reference to this finding of ICG.

The most recent report from the Small Arms Survey thus provides especially timely research, not only into what sustains the increasing—and increasingly invisible—violence in Darfur, but how weapons are reaching various rebel groups in (northern) Sudan.  Of particular note are the conclusions about the weaponry of the SPLA-North of Abdel Aziz al-Hilu:

"The evidence outlined in this Issue Brief indicates that Sudan’s major international arms suppliers, including the Russian Federation, Belarus, and China, have continued to supply SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] with weapons despite sustained evidence that SAF is continually and unlawfully moving these weapons into Darfur. Since early 2011, many of the same types of ammunition and munitions identified in the hands of all sides in Darfur have also appeared among forces fighting in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and South Sudan. The apparent common source, as in Darfur, is SAF stocks, used by SAF and its proxies, and captured from them by SPLM-N and JEM fighters. The commonalities between the arms and ammunition used in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and South Sudan show history repeating itself: the same international arms flows into Sudan that have consistently supplied the Darfur conflict over the past seven years…." 

("Business as Usual: Arms flows to Darfur 2009–12," September 2012,

It is time for the international community to end its expedient and disingenuous comparisons of the scale of support provided by Juba and Khartoum to respective military "proxies."  Indeed, it is time cease referring to the SPLA-North as a "proxy" of South Sudan—time to cease pretending that there is no difference between what motivates the renegade militias operating ruthlessly in the South and what drives the SPLA/M-North, which represents the deeply felt grievances and marginalization experienced by the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  Men like David Yau Yau are simply instruments of civilian destruction and chaos; they have and serve no meaningful political agenda.  The SPLA/M-North is fighting for survival and for justice, an end to discrimination, and an end to persecution on the basis of ethnicity and religion.

They are not the same, they are not "morally equivalent"; to pretend for reasons of diplomatic expediency that they are—in order to project a contrived "even-handedness"—is perverse and a betrayal of the people of greater Sudan.  For so long as Khartoum believes that it pays no price for its support of these brutally destructive militia groups in the South, so long as such support is considered by the Obama administration, the UN, and the African Union simply a "wash"—the negotiating equivalent of Southern "support" for the Nuba—diplomacy to end the vast humanitarian crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile will continue. 

In turn this will create larger and larger refugee populations in South Sudan—already in the range of 200,000 (excluding the refugees in Ethiopia and the Dinka Ngok who fled to the South following Khartoum's military seizure of Abyei in May 2011).  These populations in Upper Nile and Unity states are already overwhelming humanitarian capacity, and as the region begins to dry out after the long rainy season, we may be sure that violence and desperate hunger will drive many more tens of thousands of human beings to the South.

Of course acknowledging the gross misrepresentation embodied in such "equivalence" would make it more difficult for the Obama administration to sustain its current policy centerpiece, as articulated by Obama administration special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman: "Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime nor regime change."  As its justifying corollary, Lyman asserts that the Khartoum regime is capable of "carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures."  And here we come to the real heart of darkness in President Obama's Sudan policy.  Cleaving to such a preposterous claim puts the U.S. on the wrong side of history, and represents apparent ignorance of the intensifying dissatisfaction that is everywhere in Sudan; it also promises to have immensely destructive consequences in the short term, indeed until regime change does indeed come.

Thus the question that remains most exigent: what elements within the Obama administration resist such readily apparent truths?

Eric Reeves is author of a forthcoming eBook, Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (September/early October 2012); available at no cost at:

The UN's Moral Rehabilitation of the Khartoum Regime

By Eric Reeves

August 31, 2012 (SSNA) -- The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Iran has provided no "meet and greet" photographs of talks between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and indicted génocidaire Omar al-Bashir, President of the Khartoum regime.  Perhaps this is because considerable attention has been given to the question of whether or not the UN Secretary-General should even be present in Iran, a presence that has inevitably conferred greater legitimacy on Iran's nuclear-minded and harshly repressive leaders.  Notably, Iran today slammed the recent findings of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and in particular its finding that "Iran has doubled the number of uranium enrichment machines it has in an underground bunker" at the Fordow site (Reuters, August 31, 2012).  The UN's IAEA also found that Iran "had produced nearly 190 kg (418 pounds) of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, up from 145 kg in May."  It would seem tactless of a UN agency to release such information while the titular leader of the world body is in Teheran, but since Ban Ki-moon is beyond shame, there isn't much problem on this score.

We have no photograph from Iran, but we do have a photograph of Ban and al-Bashir from 2007 (in Addis Ababa), as the new Secretary-General was declaring that Darfur would be a "signature issue" for him.  The broad smiles would seem to be differently motivated in the two men: 

These were the heady days well before Ban was informed that al-Bashir had said of UN Security Council resolutions that "the UN can shove the new resolutions" (October 2011)—the president having previously offered various other creative and colorful suggestions for use of these documents.  It's fair to imagine some reprise of that earlier photographed meeting is occurring has occurred in Iran, although to be sure in 2007 al-Bashir had not yet been indicted on multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court—this on the basis of a March 2005 referral to the ICC by the UN Security Council.  Although al-Bashir's role in the Darfur genocide had been well-established even in 2007, perhaps Ban's grin was a bit less broad yesterday in Teheran than it was five years ago in Addis Ababa.

What's perhaps most remarkable is that all this occurs as al-Bashir's regime is set to take its place on the UN's Human Rights Council, charged with monitoring human rights abuses around the world.  Word of this travesty has spread quickly and there is now a serious campaign to halt Khartoum's ascension to the UN's Human Rights Commission, although it may be too late, in light of the support given to Khartoum by African nations. 

Of course al-Bashir is not alone in having been indicted by the ICC on the basis of the UN Security Council referral: Defense Minister and former Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein has been indicted on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes; so too has Ahmed Haroun, presently governor of the ravaged South Kordofan region that includes the Nuba Mountains, where Haroun appears to be doing his best to replicates "successes" in Darfur.  A number of other senior regime officials—military and political—have been named in various confidential lists, including UN lists, identifying those responsible for atrocity crimes in Darfur.  The list is implicit as well in an authoritative Human Rights Watch report, "Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur" (December 2005).

These are the men who will be charged with helping the UN Human Rights Council fulfill its mandate, established in the authorizing resolution of March 2006: "members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

Integrity is not the word that comes first to mind when thinking of the United Nations, and on human rights issues it has proved consistently hypocritical and cynical, whether in the Security Council (where Russia and China, no friends of human rights, hold veto-wielding permanent membership) or in the General Assembly.  Ban Ki-moon has done nothing to change this culture of contempt. 

Indeed, in dutifully relying on reports from UNAMID in preparing its own quarterly reports on Darfur, the UN Secretariat relies on a "hybrid" (UN and African Union) mission that has become notorious for its willingness to distort realities—including atrocity crimes—in Darfur as a means of creating some sort of African Union peacekeeping success story.  No matter that there has been over thepast month an avalanche of violence against civilians, that more than a million people have been newly displaced since UNAMID took on its mandate of civilian protection, or that the people of Darfur universally speak with vehement contempt of UNAMID.  Various UNAMID spokespersons have dutifully and regularly told us the situation on the ground is improving, violence is down, the security situation is calm, and the time is right to begin drawing down the force.

All this mendacity is certainly good news for Khartoum, which has been saying as much for even longer than UNAMID.  Indeed, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the tenor of UNAMID's assessments has increasingly come to reflect the claims of a regime that has turned Darfur into a "black box," where the only reliable information comes not from the UN but Radio Dabanga and Darfuris on the ground speaking to the diaspora.

Perhaps, though, it is a good thing that génocidaire al-Bashir and his brutal cronies are ascending to the UN Human Rights Council.  The organization has already become as corrupt as the old UN Commission on Human Rights, which was thoroughly notorious by the time of its demise (June 2006).  The Commission had been allowed to degenerate for almost 60 years.  We must hope that the UN Human Rights Council will have considerably shorter duration, and that Khartoum plays a role in assisting its collapse into absurdity.

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (September 2012) 

Darfur's invisible violence," Reuters Alert (August 28, 2012)

By Eric Reeves

August 29, 2012 (SSNA) -- Over the past month violence against civilians in Darfur has continued to explode upwards to levels not seen in years. On July 31 Khartoum’s security forces, using automatic weapons with live rounds, gunned down scores of student demonstrators in Nyala, killing twelve and leaving many critically injured.  On August 4, I received an urgent email from North Darfur, informing me of the near total destruction of humanitarian capacity in the town of Kutum, which was overwhelmed by Arab militia on August 3, as was nearby Kassab IDP camp. On August 13 – 14 ethnic violence killed or injured dozens in Mellit. On August 17, following evening prayers, the town of Tabit was attacked by Khartoum’s paramilitary Central Reserve Police. The assault had hallmarks of a deliberate massacre.

There are almost daily reports from Radio Dabanga of girls and women being raped. It is difficult to know the full scale of sexual violence, since UNAMID and the UN don’t dare offend Khartoum by reporting or speaking about it. Astonishingly, there is no mention of rape in the last two reports on UNAMID by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And his reports note only two instances of civilian bombings since the beginning of the year, despite the fact there have been dozens. Many attacks are in Jebel Marra, to which UNAMID, humanitarian organizations, and UN agencies are all denied access.

This sharp increase in violence and insecurity comes as UNAMID is preparing to reduce its force by over 4,000 troops and police. The justification? Security has improved sufficiently to justify this drawdown, and UNAMID force size should reflect “reality on the ground,” according to Hervé Ladsous, head of UN peacekeeping.

But the lack of security represented by the attacks on Kutum, Mellit, Tabit, and many other locations is the major “reality on the ground”; and growing insecurity means that humanitarians cannot reach many of those in camps who most need food, clean water, and primary health care. Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Eisa, former director of the Amal Center in Nyala, has indicated to me that based on his communications with medical professionals and others on the ground in Darfur, the health situation this rainy season is considerably worse than last year.

Water-borne diseases pose an especially grave threat, as the rains have been extremely heavy at times, and many locations have experienced serious flooding. Malaria, diarrheal diseases, and a host of other acute health risks are becoming more urgent by the day, especially in the wake of the withdrawal, expulsion, or suspension of operations by key medical relief organizations: MSF was force to suspend operations in Jebel Si, North Darfur; Médecins du Monde, active in Jebel Marra, was expelled by Khartoum in 2011; Aide Médicale Internationale and Medair both withdrew from West Darfur earlier this year.

Displacement continues apace, though barely acknowledged by the UN or UNAMID.  Indeed, since UNAMID took up its mandate in January 2008, more than 1 million civilians have been newly displaced.  And we know from nine years of grim experience in Darfur that displacement is overwhelmingly a function of violence rather than the “pull factor” of food or shelter in camps.  Following the violence near Kutum, Radio Dabanga estimated that 70,000 people were newly displaced.

UNAMID spokesman Chris Cycmanick, in a May interview with Radio Dabanga, described “the security situation in Darfur as ‘relatively calm,’” echoing similar comments by UNAMID head Ibrahim Gambari.  Darfuris—whose current crisis is being overshadowed by the vast catastrophe unfolding in the North/South border regions—may be forgiven for wondering why their own suffering and dying are so expediently misrepresented to the international community.

Eric Reeves is author of the forthcoming eBook, Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (September 2012)

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