Sudan’s military authorities released Lt Col Ali Rizgallah, aka El Safana, a prominent member of the Revolutionary Awakening Council (RAC)* on Sunday, after five years in detention.
El Savana was captured in November 2017, after fierce military battles with the militiamen of the ousted National Congress Party in the vicinity of the Kawra Mountains in North Darfur. He was transferred to the military prison in Khartoum, where he remained until his release on Sunday, in implementation of a decision of the Judge of the Military Court.
At the time of his arrest in 2017, Rizgallah was the leader of a faction that defected from the Border Guards, a militia armed by the government in Darfur, that officially fell under Sudanese military command. Its members were affiliated with former janjaweed leader Musa Hilal, until Hilal distanced himself from the government in mid-2013.
Both Hilal and Rizgallah strongly opposed the planned integration of the Darfur Border Guards into the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Sudan’s main paramilitary force, as part of a disarmament campaign in Darfur and Kordofan.
Musa Hilal, the former janjaweed leader and head of the RAC was released by Sudanese authorities in March this year following more than three years in detention.
In early 2003, when Darfuri rebels took up arms against the government, Khartoum assigned Musa Hilal, chief of the Arab Mahameed clan in North Darfur, as the main recruiter of militant Arabs (popularly called janjaweed) in Darfur. With the full backing of the government, his militiamen targeted unarmed African Darfuri villagers, but they rarely came near forces of the rebel movements.
Hilal’s stance towards the government changed over the years. Mid 2013, he returned from Khartoum to his base in North Darfur, where his fighters, mainly members of the paramilitary Border Guards, began to attack government forces and allied militias.
Hilal established the RAC, consisting of native administration leaders and militants from various tribes in north-western Darfur, in Saraf Omra in March 2014. According to a UN Security Council report in April this year, he and his men are profiting from vast gold sales in Darfur.
In July, the Sudanese government announced a nationwide disarmament campaign, to be started in Darfur and Kordofan. The army and the allied RSF militia have been tasked with collecting illegal arms and unlicensed vehicles from civilians in both regions.
According to the RAC, the disarmament of civilians in Darfur “clearly targets Sheikh Musa Hilal and his tribe”. The Border Guards have opposed the plan from the start. They have also rejected plans to dissolve the various government militias in the country and integrate the members with the RSF.