The head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council has ordered various armed groups to leave major towns in the nation’s troubled Darfur region, to be replaced by a new hybrid defense force made up of government troops and those of armed groups that signed a landmark 2020 peace accord.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan told reporters Wednesday that “within this week” fighters unaffiliated with that hybrid force would be expected to vacate major towns and assemble at designated areas in Darfur to pave the way for the joint force to take control of security in Darfur’s major towns.
“There are other negative armed forces that are trying to cause havoc,” al-Burhan said. “We have jointly agreed to fight them and prevent them from causing insecurity for our civilians.”
Al-Burhan delivered his comments in North Darfur’s provincial capital, el-Fasher, where he and his ruling Sovereign Council deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo met with leaders of the nine armed groups that were signatories to the Juba Agreement of October 2020. They recommitted to create the joint force that had been approved by the pact but never implemented because of instability in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. That led to a complete military takeover last October 25, which al-Burhan defended, saying he was saving Sudan from civil war.
The joint force should be in place by next week, said al-Burhan, commander in chief of Sudan’s armed forces. The Juba Agreement’s terms call for a joint force of 12,000.
Residents of Darfur have complained of brutal treatment by a variety of government-backed militias, a problem exacerbated by a resurgence of tribal clashes across the region.
In December, Sudan political leaders and anti-coup demonstrators rejected a deal worked out between al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who had been reinstated after initially being removed in the coup.
At least 76 people have been killed in anti-coup protests as of last week, according a Sudanese doctors’ group.
On Wednesday, hundreds of internally displaced people rallied in el-Fasher to protest al-Burhan’s visit and the ongoing insecurity. Police used tear gas to disperse them, and at least five people were reported injured.
Adam Rijal, spokesperson for the group General Coordination of Displaced Persons and Refugees, said its members would continue to protest killings and lootings allegedly carried out by government militias in Darfur.
The militias have not been held to account, Rijal told South Sudan in Focus via a messaging app. “There is no one that would write a regular report” to the United Nations Security Council, he said. “That is why they continue with their brutality against the people. The Sudanese government should take responsibility for these mistakes.”
Al-Burhan on Wednesday said the transitional government was committed to protecting civilians and carrying out the deal’s security arrangements.
“I would like to assure our relatives in Al-Fashir and other towns that we are keen to work together as one people to maintain the security of our citizens,” he said to reporters. “We would also ensure that our brothers and sisters who have come back to resettle, that they live in peace and stability.”
This report originated with VOA English to Africa Service’s South Sudan in Focus program.