Jebel Marra: Accelerating Civilian Destruction and Displacement—consequences of international expediency and indifference

By Eric Reeves

February 25, 2016 (SSNA) — Both the  UN and the Swiss-based Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) now report that more than 100,000 people have been displaced in the Jebel Marra region of central Darfur, driven from their homes and villages by the brutal onslaught of Khartoum’s regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the regime’s primary Arab militia forces, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The figure is likely a good deal higher, since so many of the locations to which people have fled are being denied access by Khartoum, even for humanitarian assessment purposes. Those who fled west or southwest or higher into the Jebel Marra, are largely unaccounted for and completely without assistance.

This denial of humanitarian assistance for those who have not fled east to North Darfur, which is now largely under Khartoum’s control, is in effect a campaign of civilian destruction. We know from as series of reports by Radio Dabanga that many—especially children—have died from hunger or exposure or from relentless and indiscriminate aerial bombardment (see assemblage of reports from Radio Dabanga in Appendix A). All such aerial attacks violate the explicit terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005), set out under Chapter 7 terms eleven years ago. Khartoum has contemptuously ignored the resolution—without consequence—for the entire period. Notably, the UN Security Council has never spoken seriously about Khartoum’s violation of this or many other Security Council resolutions. And to date, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council have been appallingly silent on the Jebel Marra crisis, leaving all UN statements to come from the UN humanitarian chief in Sudan.

In short, in a little over a month—the campaign began in earnest in mid-January—we have seen an enormous explosion of newly displaced people in one of the least served areas of Darfur. The total displaced population in Darfur likely exceeds 2.8 million—the greatest total since genocidal counter-insurgency began in 2003, thirteen years ago. Most of the newly displaced have fled to the region immediately to the east of Jebel Marra in North Darfur, known as “East Jebel Marra.” Yet alarmingly, for the past three years East Jebel Marra has been scene of the worst of widespread genocidal destruction, deterred not at all by the presence of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Moreover, UNAMID is suddenly facing the loss of all personnel from one of its key troop- and personnel-contributing countries, South Africa. The precipitous withdrawal was reported by Agence France-Presse on February 24, 2016:

South Africa has told the United Nations it is withdrawing its troops from the joint UN-African Union mission in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur, a UN official said. “The government of South Africa decided to withdraw its troops from the mission,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The 850 troops will end operations on April 15.

This will leave a gaping whole in a Mission that is already almost wholly ineffective—constantly impeded and abused by Khartoum, operating with immense deficits in men and equipment, and burdened by extremely poor morale. South Africa’s move may also prompt other African nations to withdraw their peacekeepers, effectively ending any protective role for UNAMID.

The scale of recent violence in the East Jebel Marra region of North Darfur is recorded statistically and analytically in my report “’Changing the Demography’: Violent Expropriation and Destruction of Farmlands in Darfur, November 2014 – November 2015″ (December 13, 2015). What we are seeing now in Jebel Marra is simply the extension of Khartoum’s efforts to “Change the Demography” of Darfur. Rebel resistance by the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Abdel Wahid el-Nur, which is based in Jebel Marra, has proved one of the most difficult military obstacles to Khartoum’s control of Darfur, and is now the target of an assault that gives every sign of being a “final solution” to Khartoum’s “Darfur problem.”

The response of those countries with the power to influence Khartoum’s behavior has been either deafening silence (the European Union in particular) or expedient equivocation (the Obama administration has continued its policies of accommodation, suggesting a moral equivalence between the actions of the rebel forces and Khartoum’s genocidal onslaught, which targets both rebel forces and innocent civilians with equal viciousness (see On Jebel Marra: Obama Administration Sudan Policy Remains Expedient, Guided by a Perverse “Moral Equivalence,” Eric Reeves | September 18, 2016 | ).

Khartoum scents victory in Darfur, and thus the ability to devote more military force to crush the popular rebellions in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which have seen diminished violence this fighting season, although recent reports suggest this attenuation is already ending (see report of February 26, 2016 from South Kordofan Blue Nile Coordinating Unit). And they have been encouraged as well by the promise of military assistance from Saudi Arabia, this in return for Khartoum’s breaking of relations with long-time strategic ally Iran, and assisting the Saudis in their fight against the Houthi rebels in Yemen (immediately to the south of Saudi Arabia and directly across the Red Sea from Sudan). 

There is skepticism in some quarters about the report from Sudan TribuneSaudi Arabia gives Sudan $5 billion in military aid

February 22, 2016 (KHARTOUM) – Saudi Arabia has granted five billion dollar military assistance to Sudan initially dedicated to the Lebanese army, multiple sources told Sudan Tribune on Monday. The diversion of military aid to Sudan comes as the Saudi Press Agency announced on Friday 19 February the cancellation of a $3 billion aid package for the Lebanese army and the remainder of $1 billion in aid it had earmarked for Lebanon’s security service.

The military aid to Sudan was announced to President Omer al-Bashir by the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, during a two-hour visit to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, seemingly in return to his total political and military support to Saudi Arabia in the regional confrontation against Iran.

But in fact there is a clear logic to the deal, even if the numbers are smaller, pushed further into the future, or made contingent in ways unspecified. Moreover, the Sudan Tribune, aware of this skepticism, nonetheless remains confident in its sources. Surely some significant military assistance from the Saudis is in the pipeline—this to help prop up a regime that currently presides over a collapsing civilian economy, brought to its knees by obscenely excessive military and security expenditures and a gross mismanagement of the economy [See my two Forum reports on the Sudanese economy for the Enough Project:

· Watching the Bubble Burst: Political Implications of Sudan’s Economic Implosion,” Enough Project Forum publication, 17 September 2014 |
·        “Kleptocracy in Khartoum: Self-Enrichment by the National Islamic” Enough Project Forum publication, 9 December, 2015 |

Reports of food and staple shortages and skyrocketing food and fuel prices are constantly reported by Sudanese news organizations outside Sudan but with a large roster of reporters inside the country.  Reports also indicate the plummeting value of the Sudanese Pound, as the regime finds itself almost wholly without international exchange currency. Just in February 2016 Radio Dabanga has reported:
Flour crisis ongoing in Sudan | February 25, 2016 | SUDAN
No improvements in Sudan’s bread shortage | February 12, 2016 | EL GEZIRA / EL OBEID / KHARTOUM
Sudanese complain about soaring gas, bread prices | February 9, 2016 | DARFUR / KADUGLI / MUGLAD / SENNAR / RIVER NILE
Flour and cooking gas shortages in Sudan continue | February 7, 2016 | KHARTOUM / WAD MADANI / SENNAR
Sudan: Pound hits record low, bread shortage | February 5, 2016 | EL GEDAREF / KASSALA / KHARTOUM
Sudan’s White Nile and Sennar states short of cooking gas, flour | February 1, 2016 | WHITE NILE / EL GEZIRA / SENNAR
Sudan Health Ministry admits failures | February 21, 2016 | KHARTOUM ]
Khartoum for its part is preemptively threatening the Obama administration by declaring, via its propaganda organ the pro-regime newspaper Akhir Lahzah (February 17, 2016):
Sudan hints at suspending counter-terrorism cooperation with USA
Excerpt from report by Sudanese pro-government newspaper Akhir Lahzah on 17 February. The speaker of Parliament, Prof Ibrahim Ahmad Umar, has hinted at the possibility of Khartoum suspending its cooperation with the USA on counter-terrorism. “The cooperation with Washington [on counter-terrorism] [was] a decision made to take into account the benefits or damages it brings to Sudan and we are against terrorism, in principle. In this regard, we can cooperate with various countries that are willing to cooperate [with us]. [However], if we feel that these countries are not willing [to cooperate] or are hostile or are not showing interest in cooperating with Sudan, then the concerned authorities will take the appropriate action,” he said. (BBC Monitory Alert, ME1 MEEau 170216)
There is very considerable evidence that the U.S. intelligence community is setting Obama administration Sudan policy, and that Khartoum knows just how potent a threat is being floated here. Much of this evidence is readily apparent in the leaked minutes from an August 31, 2015 meeting of the most senior military and security officials in Khartoum, which reveal much about the regime’s attitude toward radical Islam and its contempt for what is offered to the U.S. by way of counter-terrorism intelligence (the U.S State Department, as well as all credible observers, have confirmed the authenticity of these minutes). Much of what appears in these minutes is confirmed by evidence cited in:
• “Khartoum and Terrorism: What we knew before the horrors of the Paris attacks” | Eric Reeves, 16 November 2015 |
• “What Really Animates the Obama Administration’s Sudan Policy?” | Eric Reeves, 10 October 2011 |
None of this seems to matter to a world that simply cannot plead ignorance of what is presently occurring, even as international indifference, callousness, and expediency—and the growing weakness of UNAMID—ensure that we will continue to see countless such dispatches:
·        ADCPS Briefing Note: Jebel Marra—Sudan Displacement, February 24, 2016
At least 100,000 people have been displaced. Over 60,000 people have arrived at three locations in North Darfur including the UNAMID base in Sortoni, IDP sites in Tawila locality and Kebkabiya. An unknown number of people have been displaced to villages and towns in Central Darfur, where severe access restrictions have prevented verification. Displaced people are also hiding in the mountains and at risk of ongoing fighting. Women and children comprise 90% of the displaced. Civilians have been indiscriminately targeted. IDPs are in critical need of humanitarian assistance across all sectors.
• Woman burns to death in North Darfur village attack | February 24, 2016 | TAWILA
• Girl dies in ongoing air raids on Darfur’s Jebel Marra | February 24, 2016 | JAWA / TUR / KASS
• More displaced in Central Darfur need aid | February 23, 2016 | NIERTETI
• Central Darfuri suffers horrific death | February 22, 2016 | NIERTETI
• Child burns to death in Jebel Marra raids | February 19, 2016 | TABIT / TUR
• Man killed near site for Jebel Marra displaced | February 19, 2016 | KABKABIYA
• Dire health problems among displaced in Jebel Marra | February 19, 2016 | KATRONG / GOLO / KHARTOUM
• Darfur: ‘No time to flee bombers’ in Jebel Marra | February 21, 2016 | JEBEL MARRA
Khartoum’s response to the crisis will continue to take the form of a relentless mendacity and brutal determination to complete the military task it sees as key to bringing Darfur under its control—all the while denying humanitarian access to vast numbers of civilians. No claim will be too preposterous:
[No remotely credible explanation is offered for the displacement of more than 100,000 people, 90 percent of them women and children—ER]
 No-go for aid workers in Central Darfur temporary: state Minister | February 22, 2016 | TUR / KHARTOUM
[Khartoum has imposed a humanitarian blockade on Jebel Marra for more than five years—ER]
Many have already died. Radio Dabanga reports, for example, a grim vignette of the human destruction that is already pervasive in Jebel Marra: “At least 32 children die of exhaustion in Darfur’s Jebel Marra” (January 28, 2016 | Jebel Marra). The figure of 500,000 dead is surely rising rapidly, and the victims are overwhelmingly from the non-Arab or African tribal populations of Darfur; presently the Fur of Jebel Marra are the primary victims (the Fur are the largest ethnic group in all of Darfur). Unless Khartoum halts its present brutal, indiscriminate military campaign—targeting both rebel forces and civilians with equal savagery—and unless humanitarian access is granted, tens of thousands of people will die. The upcoming rainy season, during which planting occurs, will be a disaster, making people even more dependent on the humanitarian assistance currently denied by Khartoum.
This is the Khartoum regime’s “end game” for Darfur, and smelling victory, it will take far more than the lonely voices of UN humanitarian officials, equivocal statements from the U.S., and indifference from the EU and African Union. Nothing more potent, however, is in evidence.
APPENDIX A:  Earlier reports on the Jebel Marra assault and humanitarian crisis (see )
Major offensive on Darfur’s Jebel Marra ongoing | January 17, 2016 | JEBEL MARRA
Darfur: Jebel Marra villagers flee to mountain top | January 18, 2016 | NIERTETI / JEBEL MARRA
Darfur: Jebel Marra bombs lead to more casualties, displaced | January 19, 2016 | (EAST) JEBEL MARRA / NIERTETI 
Displaced attacked inside Darfur’s camps | January 19, 2016 | NIERTETI / KABKABIYA
Darfur: Militia attacks, burned villages in Jebel Marra offensive | January 22, 2016 | JEBEL MARRA / NIERTETI / KASS
Children starve high in Darfur’s Jebel Marra | February 5, 2016 | JEBEL MARRA / NIERTETI / TUR
Militiamen attack Jebel Marra markets | February 17, 2016 | EAST JEBEL MARRA
‘Sudan air raids target displaced, block trade in Jebel Marra’ | February 10, 2016 | GOLO / MALAM / TAWILA / KASS / NIERTETI
Three Darfur children killed in Jebel Marra attack | February 3, 2016 | SORTONY / NIERTETI
Darfur: Strafing continues in Jebel Marra war zone | January 24, 2016 | JEBEL MARRA
Darfur’s Jebel Marra ‘secured by army forces’, attacks continue | February 8, 2016 | KHARTOUM / JEBEL MARRA
Dali village in North Darfur attacked again | February 8, 2016 | TAWILA
Attacks continue in Darfur’s Jebel Marra | February 7, 2016 | JEBEL MARRA / TAWILA
‘Tens of thousands trapped in Darfur’s Jebel Marra’ | February 11, 2016 | GOLO / LONDON
Jebel Marra displaced gather in Tur, Nierteti | February 16, 2016 | TAWILA / NIERTETI
Jebel Marra: Villagers flee to North, Central Darfur towns | January 28, 2016 | NIERTETI / GULDO / TAWILA
Bombing, shelling in Darfur’s Jebel Marra continues | January 27, 2016 | NIERTETI / GOLO / TAWILA
Children killed in bombardment on Jebel Marra, Darfur | January 26, 2016 | GOLO / TAWILA
Bombing kills baby, influx of displaced into Darfur towns | February 12, 20o6 | GOLO / TAWILA
Three gang-raped near Tabit in North Darfur | January 25, 2016 | TABIT
Six women raped in Darfur’s Shangil Tobaya | February 12, 2016 | SHANGIL TOBAYA
Two women shot, two more raped in Darfur | February 2, 2016 | JEBEL MARRA / TAWILA
Two raped for hours in North Darfur | February 17, 2016 | TAWILA
Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for the past seventeen years. He is author of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012
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