‘Last redoubt’ – North Darfur capital braces for RSF onslaught

The Joint Force of Armed Struggle Movements secures a convoy on its way to El Fasher (Photo: Darfur Joint Force)

The North Darfur capital El Fasher, the last major city in the region that is still under combined control of the Sudan Armed Forces and the Darfur joint rebel forces, is bracing to resist any onslaught by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

As previously reported by Radio Dabanga, the Sudan Liberation Movement under leadership of Minni Arko Minawi (SLM-MM), and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Jibril Ibrahim, have announced their renunciation of the neutrality pledged in the October 2020 Juba Peace Agreement (JPA), and their preparedness “to participate in military operations on all fronts without hesitation”.

Gen Yahya Idris, assistant to Minni Minawi, head of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-MM) and governor of the Darfur region, told Radio Dabanga that El Fasher is the main city where the rebel movements that signed the JPA are located, which made it a focus of interest for these movements, in addition to its symbolism as the capital of the region.

Idris stated that the rebel movements since signing the JPA began to spread its combatants in the region in accordance with the agreement, and formed a joint protection force to protect civilians, with the command established in El Fasher.

The joint force remains neutral in the war between the army and the RSF, and began to deploy in the rest of the states of Darfur, reaching Nyala days before it fell into the hands of the RSF.

“We were planning to deploy our forces in Zalingei, El Geneina, and other parts of Darfur, but the RSF intention to seize the five capital cities of Darfur was surprising. For us, it’s not a sound move, he said. “There is no need for RSF to take the war from Khartoum to Darfur.”

In response to Radio Dabanga’s question about the existence of any communication with the RSF about the situation in El Fasher, the assistant head of the SLM-MM denied any communication with the RSF, and added: There is no dialogue or communication between us, and if they insist on entering El Fasher, let them try.

The political and military positions of the armed struggle movements varies with regard to the war in Sudan. The leaders of the JEM and SLM-MM explicitly announced their joining the fight in the ranks of the Sudanese army against the RSF, while the leaders of the SLM split-off faction headed by Tahar Hajar and the SLM-Transitional Council led by El Hadi Idris chose to remain neutral.

SLM-MM advisor Yahya El Nour said that the joint protection force is now mobilising in El Fasher to defend the city of El Fasher. The fighters come from the JPA signatories SLM-MM, JEM led by Jibril Ibrahim, SLM-Hajar, and the SLM-TC, in addition to a small force of the Sudanese Coalition led by Gen Ahmed Garnouf.

El Fasher is one of the strategic cities, as it connects its borders with the countries of Libya and Chad and the western towns of the Darfur region. The city is currently sheltering thousands of displaced people who fled from other places in Darfur, in particular Nyala, capital of south Darfur, that came under control of the RSF in October.

Journalist Malik Dahab told Radio Dabanga from El Fasher that he believes that the RSF and the armed rebel groups do not want to fight each other because it will be the end of one of them, but he pointed out that there are parties, “the army and those who support it”, which want the conflict between the movements and the RSF to flare up in any way.

He hinted that “the North Darfur capital is the last card for the the rebel movements. If they lose the fight, they will fade away, as the movements look at the North Darfur capital as the only shelter where they exist as movements that signed the JPA,. If the RSF controls the city, it means that they do not exist on the ground anymore.”

According to the journalist, the RSF taking the city of El Fasher would also ignite strife between the Arab tribes supporting the RSF and the Zaghawa tribe, from which most fighters of the SLM factions and the JEM come from. He revealed contacts made by leaders of the Zaghawa tribe with Chadian President Mohamed Idris Deby and asked him to intervene to convince the RSF not to enter El Fasher.

The SLM-MM accused the RSF of trying to drag the movements into the war since they entered the areas of Kutum, Kabakabiya and Amori, in which the rebel forces are present, but they preferred “wisdom to violence”. When RSF paramilitaries killed one of the movement’s leaders, Maj Babiker Mousa, they chse not to react.