Sudan crackdown highlights role of feared paramilitary unit
The deployment of the government’s Rapid Support Forces suggests a former Darfur fighter with a fearsome reputation, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, is calling the shots
Khartoum — Amnesty International on Thursday called for international action against Sudan’s new military rulers and condemned the government’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for what it called a “murderous rampage” against protesters this week.
The raid on Monday by security forces on a protest camp in central Khartoum was the worst violence yet surrounding the downfall of Omar al-Bashir, who was removed as president by the military in April after four months of protests.
The civilian opposition had been in talks with an interim military council over a transition to democracy, but the negotiations faltered and this week’s crackdown marked a turning point in the sustained crisis.
The UN and several foreign governments have already condemned the bloodshed. The Sudanese health ministry said on Thursday that 61 people were killed but the opposition put the toll at more than 100.
In its statement, Amnesty International singled out the RSF, a paramilitary force that controls Khartoum, as being a main participant in the violence.
The force, led by the deputy leader of the transitional military council, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, was built up from militias that fought insurgents in Sudan’s western Darfur region during a civil war that began in 2003.
The militias are accused of involvement in widespread atrocities in Darfur, and Bashir was indicted in 2009 and 2010 by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide — charges he denies. He is now detained in Khartoum.
“The RSF, the special military force which killed, raped and tortured thousands in Darfur, brings its murderous rampage to the capital,” Amnesty said. “Reports that bodies have been dumped in the river demonstrate the utter depravity of these so-called security forces.”
Witnesses have said the RSF led the crackdown on the protest camp. Troops fired on unarmed protesters then mounted a wider crackdown in the following days, they say.
The military council has denied the force was involved in any illegal actions and said it was facing a negative media campaign “from hostile parties”. The raid was targeting criminals in an area adjacent to the camp, it said.
Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, said the military council had launched an investigation into the violence and would punish anyone found guilty of abuses.
The deployment of the RSF suggests that Dagalo, a former Darfur fighter with a fearsome reputation, is calling the shots, at least when it comes to security. He is close to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and has committed Sudanese troops to the military coalition they lead in Yemen’s civil war.
Amnesty said that Sudan’s recent history has been defined by impunity for war crimes and other human rights violations. “We are urging the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council to break this cycle of impunity and take immediate action to hold the perpetrators of this violence accountable,” the London-based human rights group said.
Meanwhile, movement began to return to the Sudanese capital on Thursday after some fraught days. After the raid on the camp, protesters had blocked roads with rocks and burning byres. Security forces led by RSF units have been trying to open roadblocks. Witnesses said traffic was now flowing again on main roads in Khartoum but many shops remained closed.
Sudan has been rocked by unrest since December, when anger over rising bread prices and cash shortages broke into protests against Bashir that culminated in the military removing him, ending his three decades in office during which the country became a pariah state in Western eyes.
In the wake of Monday’s events, the military council cancelled all agreements reached with the opposition on a democratic transition and announced plans to hold elections within nine months. Protesters rejected the plan.