The Sudanese government confirmed on 14 January that they had launched air strikes against JEM in South Darfur, claiming that the attacks were conducted “in order to protect the lives of civilians.” The bombing, which instead of protecting civilians has caused more killings and displacement, began on 13 January but the precise number of casualties is as yet unknown. The Sudanese army admitted that it had carried out bombings on JEM because it rejected the Abuja agreement and the ceasefire. Army spokesman, Sawarmi Khaled, stated “We bombed a group of rebels, who have no [peace] agreement with us in order to protect the lives of civilians. This is the army’s job, to secure the lives of civilians."
In the same region fighting also broke out between JEM and the former government allied rebel groups SLA-MM. Both sides accuse each other of instigating the violence which has led UNAMID to move troops to the area, to protect aid workers and provide medical care to injured civilians. Muhageria has been traditionally a stronghold for the SLM-MM faction but fighting broke out with JEM troops in the area. Civilians fled the locality, gathering around UNAMID bases for protection. UNAMID have confirmed that they have set up a makeshift hospital at it’s base to treat wounded IDPs and helped evacuate staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres and Solidarites who had been working in the area. An official said “UNAMID is providing medical care to injured civilians and offering shelter to aid workers after members of two rebel groups opened fire on each other in a South Darfur town today.” The force also confirmed that fighting had now stopped.
Mindful of their exclusion from current negotiations on possible peace talks, the SLM faction led by Minni Minawi have decried supposed attempts to make JEM the leading rebel group in peace talks. Minawi stated “There is a joint conspiracy between JEM and some countries to make Khalil Ibrahim [JEM chief] get rid of any other factions in so he can become the John Garang of Darfur in Doha negotiations” although he did not elaborate on which countries he was referring to. He was keen to stress that he would not allow this to happen. Forces of the two groups clashed this week in southern Darfur resulting in hundreds being displaced from the area. Minawi blamed JEM saying that the area has been under the control of the SLM-MM group and JEM “have disrupted the livelihood of the people” and warned that they must withdraw immediately.
The ICC and Sudan
War crime suspect, Ali Kushayb, was this week transferred to Khartoum from Nyala in South Darfur where it is alleged he has been held in custody. Kushayb, wanted by the ICC for a number of counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, has so far escaped being handed over to the court. However, the Sudanese government claim they have him in detention and have vowed to try him in a Sudanese court in order to invoke the rule of ‘complementarity’ which would prevent the ICC from investigating any suspect who is being tried meaningfully in his own country. Nevertheless, Kushayb has still not faced trial and speculations over whether he does in fact remain in custody abound. His transfer to Khartoum has not been explained by government sources but it is clear that his trial is by no means imminent, demonstrating the government’s lack of commitment to bring the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights to justice.
Outspoken critic of the ruling NCP party, Hassan Turabi, was arrested this week following his demands for the Sudanese President to surrender himself to the ICC. The Islamic fundamentalist ideologue and leader of opposition group, the Popular National Congress Party was formerly a strong ally of Al-Bashir and played a large role in bringing him to power in the 1989 coup. However, Turabi’s relationship with Al-Bashir turned sour in 1999 and Turabi was ousted from the ruling party. Since then Turabi has been linked with Darfur rebel group JEM and has been a fierce critic of the government, being the first to suggest that Bashir hand himself over to the court. Other critics have erred on the side of caution, merely suggesting that the government should ‘deal with’ the court. Such outspoken statements have led to Turabi’s recent arrest which has been condemned as “arbitrary” by Amnesty International. The group say he is being held incommunicado without charges.
Sudan’s First Vice-President Salva Kiir spoke out for the first time on 13 January against an ICC arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir. Despite previously urging the government to cooperate with the court, it seems concern for what would become of the CPA signed by Kiir’s party and the ruling government if Al-Bashir were arrested, have overridden this approach. His party fears that if Al-Bashir were no longer in power the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would become null and void and there would not be a referendum on the self-determination of South Sudan nor elections in the coming year. Kiir pleaded with his US counterparts to use their influence with the court but to no avail. The Sudanese cabinet applauded Kiir’s comments, saying they represented a “dedicated effort to stop any decision by the International Criminal Court to charge the president considering a call from its prosecutor to create instability and chaos and stop development efforts.”