Eritrea military training camps raise concerns about security in eastern Sudan

Military training of Sudanese armed opposition groups in Gash-Barka in Eritrea (Photo: FB page of the Eastern Sudan Liberation Forces, January 14)

The ongoing militarisation and increased armament of ‘popular resistance’ groups in eastern Sudan has raised fears about renewed tribal conflicts in the region. The establishment of training camps by armed movements from eastern and western Sudan in Eritrea only increases the concerns.

Military sources told Radio Dabanga yesterday that six training camps have been established in the Eritrean Gash-Barka region neighbouring Sudan, by five armed groups from eastern Sudan and a sixth from Darfur.

The groups include the recently established Eastern Sudan Liberation Forces, the United Popular Front for Liberation and Justice under the leadership of El Amin Daoud, the Beja National Congress led by Mousa Mohamed Ahmed, the Beja Armed Congress headed by Omar Taher, and the Darfuri Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM).

Activists, journalists, and researchers have warned of the dire consequences of setting up military training camps in neighbouring countries, as the social and political effects in eastern Sudan (Red Sea state, Kassala, and El Gedaref) may be catastrophic. 

Journalist and head of the National Press Council, Hossameldin Haidar, told Radio Dabanga that he considers the training camps a threat not only to security and stability in eastern Sudan, but also to the security of the entire country in light of the ongoing war between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). “The ongoing militarisation could not only fuel tribal conflicts, but also lead to the disintegration of the country.”

Political activist Khaled Nour agrees with Haidar regarding the danger of tribal polarisation in eastern Sudan, and the waves of ethnically based fighting in the region has witnessed in the past few years. “Since 2019, more than 11 violent tribal clashes erupted, which claimed hundreds of lives.”

Nour also does not rule out that the groups now training in Eritrea will lose their independence. “Having camps abroad will certainly lead to the dependence of these forces on the conflicting regional axes, especially as each country has its own interests and cannot provide facilities without expecting loyalty in return.”

Abu Fatima Onur, researcher and director of the Centre for Tracking Studies, however, downplays the impact of training camps on social reality. “The tribal conflicts that took place in the region in the past few years were artificial and aimed to hinder the December Revolution. Evidence of this is that the conflicts were confined to cities and towns and did not spread to villages,” he told Radio Dabanga.

Armed groups in Eritrea

The youngest group is the Eastern Sudan Liberation Forces, established in end December, following the ‘fall of Wad Madani’, capital of central Sudan’s El Gezira, to the RSF.

The movement’s leader, Ibrahim Abdallah (better know as Ibrahim Dunya) announced in video clips in front of his forces at the time that their goal is to defend civilians in the event of an extension of the war in the East and “to deter violations similar to what happened in Wad Madani after the army’s withdrawal”.

The United People’s Front for Liberation and Justice splinter faction of the Eastern Front, led by El Amin Daoud since its formation in 2013, also established a similar camp in the Eritrean Gash Barka region and began attracting soldiers to the camp. 

El Amin Daoud is a member of the Forces for Freedom and Change-Democratic Bloc, which has declared its bias towards the army since the outbreak of the war.

According to relevant sources, the list of movements with training sites in Eritrea, also includes the National Beja Congress. Headed by Mousa Mohamed Ahmed, assistant to former President Omar Al Bashir, the group is mobilising veterans to join the training.

Other groups are the military wing of the Beja Congress, a group led by Mohamed Tahir, who is close to religious leader Suleiman Beitai, head of the Hamashkoreib Quran schools, and a fifth group that does not carry a specific name and recruits most of its combatants from Red Sea state.

Hundreds of fighters of the Darfuri SLM split-off faction under the leadership of Minni Minawi, governor of the Darfur region since April 2021 are receiving “advanced training” in Eritrean camps. The SLM-MM in November announced its alignment with the SAF and its explicit opposition to the RSF, after it had been neutral for a long time.

Imminent tribal conflicts

Political activist Khaled Nour attributes the increased armament of civilians in eastern Sudan and the establishment of military camps in Eritrea not only to tribal polarisation and the threat of the RSF taking control of the region, but also to the regional interest in eastern Sudan.

“Eastern Sudan has a geostrategic importance, with its sea ports along the long coast in Red Sea state, in addition to the rich resources in the region.”

The eastern parts of the country “have not yet recovered from civil strife,” he told Radio Dabanga. “Fears of regional interventions and the increase of lethal weapons will lead to an exacerbation of tribal conflicts, especially in light of the failure to address the roots of the problem.

“Both eastern Sudanese armed movements and popular resistance groups lack consideration for the social fabric in the region. Their recruiting of tribal fighters will lead to the creation of new loyalties on an ethnic basis, which raises fears of renewed tribal conflicts and pushes other groups to intervene, especially the RSF. Inter-community conflicts in eastern Sudan could turn into a time bomb.”

He further noted that the camps have not been established inside Sudan, as “the groups prefer to remain independent, especially in light of the SAF restricting its training to its veterans, new recruits, and supporting forces, and under its supervision”.

Haidar said that “the establishment of the “Hodeida camps” in Eritrea “trigger new societal tensions and disintegration in eastern Sudan”.

Moreover, “the entry of new parties into the Sudanese war will only deepen the crisis,” he said, and also warned of “the impact on neighbouring countries, especially Ethiopia and Eritrea, in light of the crises witnessed in the Horn of Africa”.


According to researcher Abu Fatima Onur, most of the fighters in the training camps are former rebel combatants. “They are well-disciplined forces.” 

He downplayed potential security threats for the region. “, he said that the camps are located near the border with Sudan, not in the Eritrean interior.

“Most of the participants are soldiers who were previously integrated into the security system. In addition, the training operations are not aimed at biasing towards a particular group, but rather to protect civilian lives and the stability of eastern Sudan.”

Onur believes that weapons have been widespread in eastern Sudan “since World War I and II and the Eritrean-Ethiopian war that lasted for three decades.

“This was followed by the outbreak of battles between the Salvation Government [of Omar Al Bashir] and opposition forces on the eastern front.”

On September 18 last year, a brief exchange of gunfire between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and combatants loyal to Dirar Ahmed Dirar, known as Sheiba Dirar, head of the Alliance of Eastern Sudan Parties and Movements, took place in Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea state – where the de facto government has moved to since violence battles between the SAF and RSF erupted in Khartoum five months before.

Eritrea’s role

The United People’s Front for Liberation and Justice faction led by Khaled Shaweesh* described the establishment of the camps as an unfortunate development.

He said in a statement last week that that “the establishment of the camps with the knowledge and know-how of the Eritrean leadership and its official institutions fully undermines the hoped-for Eritrean role and its efforts to end the war in Sudan. It represents a great service to the supporters of the Al Bashir regime and their terrorist elements”.

Shaweesh fears that “this trend will lead to a prolongation of the war and the transformation of parts of Sudan into a regional war zone”, leading to “a war of all against all”.

Vice President of the Sovereignty Council, Malek Agar, visited the Eritrean capital of Asmara, earlier this month. He said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that his talks with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki dealt with the political situation and issues of concern to Sudanese internal affairs.

In the 1990s, Eritrea hosted several Sudanese armed opposition groups and allegedly provided military and logistic assistance to them and to the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) headed by the late John Garang.

* The Beja National Congress signed the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (ESPA) with the Sudanese government in 2006, alongside the Beja Congress, under the name of the Eastern Front, headed by Amna Dirar, and the Free Lions, headed by Mabrouk Mubarak, which consists of members of the Rashaida tribe. The agreement has been considered a failure. Some 14 years later, the eastern Sudan track accord, part of the October 2020 Juba Peace Agreement, was signed by the Beja Congress in Opposition and the United People’s Front for Liberation and Justice headed by Khaled Shaweesh. The High Council of Beja Nazirs and Independent Chieftains was not involved in the Juba peace negotiations and repeatedly opposed the contents of the protocol with large protest actions in the following years.