EL GENEINA / KHARTOUM –
Sudanese rebel leaders, politicians, lawyers, and journalists have strongly denounced the killing of Khamees Abakar, Governor (Wali) of West Darfur, in the state capital El Geneina on Wednesday. UNITAMS and the European ambassador to Sudan condemned the killing as well. The Sudanese army, the Darfur Bar Association, and a rebel bloc accuse the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of the murder.
Former rebel leader Abakar, appointed as governor of West Darfur following the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement (JPA) in October 2020, was taken from his home in El Geneina on Wednesday by armed men and killed.
He was abducted a few hours after he, in an interview with Al Hadath TV, had accused the RSF and allied Arab nomad militants in the region of being behind the violence in West Darfur and requested the international community to intervene.
Video footage on social media shows Abakar being held by a group of men wearing RSF uniforms and entering an office. Later, Gen Abdelrahman Juma, RSF Commander in West Darfur, was identified as the main person of the group.
The RSF has denied responsibility for the killing of the West Darfur governor.
“The Sudanese Military Intelligence operating in the state has orchestrated these tribal battles, including the recent incident leading to the assassination of Abakar.
However, our forces promptly intervened, rescuing him from the outlaws and ensuring his safety. Despite our efforts to protect the governor, the outlaws launched a large-scale raid that escalated into clashes with our forces, resulting in his abduction and tragic assassination, devoid of any humanity,” the RSF tweeted early yesterday morning.
“We extend our deepest condolences for the loss of life and urge both conflicting parties in West Darfur to exercise restraint, pursue reason, and seize the opportunity to prevent the escalation of this tribal conflict into a full-fledged civil war, as desired by some elements.”
Army chief Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan and the spokesperson for the Sudan Armed Forces, in separate statements, accused the RSF of liquidating the governor, and underlined that the killing has nothing to do with the ongoing conflict between the army and the RSF.
The Darfur Bar Association also accused the RSF of committing the crime.
The West Darfur Rebels Bloc said that West Darfur RSF Commander Abdulrahman Juma and Deputy Governor El Tijani Karshoum ordered the RSF soldiers to storm the house of Abakar and bring him to the office where he was killed before the eyes of the RSF commander.
In a statement on Thursday, the West Darfur Rebel Bloc countered descriptions of the violence in the region saying they are “tribal” and blamed the Sudanese army for failing to protect “statesman Khamees Abakar”.
Journalist and political analyst Ashraf Abdelaziz tod Radio Dabanga that the assassination must be thoroughly investigated “by a local or international committee, although all accusations are directed towards the RSF, which tried to deny the fact, but so far the justifications seem to be illogical”.
The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) alliance of rebel groups that signed the JPA with the Sudanese government on October 3, 2020, did not accuse any party. Instead, it demanded the formation of an independent investigation commission into the assassination.
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) that split later from the SRF, accused “armed militiamen” of abducting and killing Abakar.
The National Umma Party stated on social media that it holds “an armed group” responsible.
The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) said in a statement yesterday that it “is appalled and deeply shocked” by the killing of Governor Abakar, “a key interlocutor in the region and a signatory of the Juba Peace Agreement”.
The statement says that “Compelling eyewitness accounts attribute this act to Arab militias and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), even though the RSF communicated a denial of their involvement to the mission.
“The UN Mission in Sudan calls for the perpetrators to be swiftly brought to justice and the cycle of violence in the region to not expand further. We appeal to the wisdom of the Sudanese people not to be drawn into the vortex of hate speech and ethnic polarization.”
Aidan O’Hara, Ambassador of the European Union to Sudan, condemned the violence in West Darfur in a tweet on Thursday.
“Amid reports of appalling large-scale violence in Darfur, the brutal murder yesterday of Khamis Abubakar, the Governor of West Darfur, is shocking. The Governor was among those who welcomed me to El Geneina in January.
“We condemn his murder and the killings of an untold number of civilians in the conflict. The protection of civilians in Sudan and humanitarian access are obligations under international law and those responsible for violations will be held accountable.
Abdulwahid El Nur, head of the mainstream Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-AW) that has not signed the JPA, praised Abakar’s courage. “He was martyred inside the capital of his state, the land of his ancestors. He did not leave it, despite the horrors, suffering and hell,” the group said in an obituary* yesterday.
In a eulogy yesterday, he described “the party that assassinated him” as “a coward who does not know the values and morals of war”.
El Nur lauds the leadership qualities of Abakar, who not only participated in the establishment of the Sudan Liberation Front (later to become the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/SLM) in 2002.
He was assigned as vice president of the SLM in 2004, while Minni Minawi, a Zaghawa tribesman, was secretary-general of the movement. “Abakar’s appointment came as part of the movement’s tribal balance as the position of deputy head of the movement was assigned to the Masalit,” El Nur wrote.
“We went to all rounds of peace negotiations in Abuja (2004-2006). After the negotiations, he decided to form their own organisation.”
Later, Abakar announced his presidency of a new Sudan Liberation Movement faction and refused, like El Nur, to sign the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur in mid-2011.
Abakar, who brought together 13 rebel groups under the name the Sudanese Alliance, joined the Juba peace negotiations in early 2020 after signing an agreement in the South Sudanese capital with the SM faction headed by Minni Minawi concerning “joint cooperation and unification of their visions on Sudanese issues”. He had positive relations with RSF commander Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo during the Juba negotiations and also after his appointment as governor of West Darfur, El Nur stated.
The Sudanese Alliance, presided by Abakar, was one of the signatories of the December 2022 Framework Agreement with the military junta about the formation of a civilian government, but instead led to the current war between the army and the RSF.
* The Sudanese Alliance, headed by Khamees Abakar, consisted in 2020 of 13 rebel groups: SLM-Abakar, the SLM faction led by Hafiz Lazem, the Revolutionary Forces Front (RFF) led by Hafiz Abdallah, who is currently the Minister of Animal Resources, the RFF faction under the leadership of Mousa Hasan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N)-Abu Tareg faction headed Maj Gen Saeed Mahel, the SPLM-N faction headed by Ma Gen Abukora, the SPLM-Darfur Region headed by Doudin, the Sudanese Revolutionary Council led by Muhyeldin Karama, the New Justice and Equality Movement under the leadership of Tajeldin Ibrahim, the Justice and Democratic Equality Movement led by Dr Azraq, the Sudanese People’s Democratic Front led by lawyer Mohamed Haroun, the Kordofan Development Gathering led by Abdelbagi Shenibo, and the Reform and Development Movement under the leadership of El Sadig Shayeb.