The presence of several armies in the Sudanese capital Khartoum has raised security concerns among the people over what they believe may be a struggle for power between them, which will undermine the country’s democratic transition.
Khartoum hosts the regular army, the Rapid Support Forces, led by First Vice President of the Sovereign Council, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and other forces that have defected from these groups.
All of these armed groups freely roam Khartoum. Tensions came to a head after a clash last week between members of an armed group. The police moved in to contain the unrest. Another armed group, from Darfur, also seized control of the Olympic committee building, almost causing an international crisis.
No one knows the accurate number of gunmen and weapons in Sudan. Estimates put the figure at more than 4 million arms, which are possessed by civilians and gunmen. Weapons continue to pour in from neighboring countries, especially chaos-wracked Libya.
Head of the United Nations Integrated Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Volker Perthes warned in a briefing before the Security Council that peace cannot be achieved with the presence of so many armies.
For over half a decade, the Sudanese military has always had to contend with rebellions from within its ranks. Rebel officers would then go on to form their own militias, leading to various conflicts over the years.
Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace agreement with key rebel groups last years, a step towards resolving deep-rooted conflicts from the long rule of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.
Three major groups signed the Juba peace agreement, including factions from Darfur. But two factions with the biggest presence on the ground in Darfur and the south did not sign.
Along with the JEM, it was signed by the SLA, from Darfur, and by Malik Agar, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), from the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.
One major SPLM-N faction, and an SLA faction led by Abdel Wahed el-Nur, did not.
Security expert Mohammed al-Amin Ismail al-Majzoub noted a flaw in the peace agreement, saying its security arrangements cover all forces and militias that were inherited by the transitional government from the former regime. It did not, however, specify the number of forces included in the merger of groups.
“The devil lies in the details,” he added, noting that the agreement was vague in how it should be implemented.
He denied that the ruling authorities were concerned about the deployment of these forces in Khartoum, warning, however, that they cannot rule out the possibility of clashes erupting between.
“We have seen security shortcomings in Khartoum, which used to be among the safest capitals in the world,” he remarked. “The authorities are not concerned that these armies would seek to seize power, but rather they fear that they would become embroiled in clashes with the regular forces.”
He therefore urged the need for the security and defense council to meet to determine the numbers of these forces and kick off security arrangements, even if the financial means for them are not yet available.