ARMED OPPOSITION GROUPS REDEPLOY IN WAKE OF CHAD-SUDAN BORDER SECURITY PACT
Recent talks in N’djamena seem to confirm both Sudan and Chad have realized that their use of proxies in a long-standing dispute is a dangerous game that threatens the existence of both regimes.
An agreement was reached during talks on January 8-9 that committed both parties to cease the hosting or supporting of armed opposition groups, basically reviving the March 2008 Dakar Agreement between Chad and Sudan (see text at Sudan Tribune, March 18, 2008). A statement issued by the Chadian Foreign Ministry said N’djamena was prepared to allow all participating bodies, including the Khartoum government, to “verify on the ground the absence of any anti-Sudan presence in Chadian territories” (AFP, January 11). Chad and Sudan have also agreed to stop using their respective media to launch attacks on each other (SUNA, December 29, 2009). The Sudanese Foreign Ministry was adamant that the negotiations were strictly “tactical” and had nothing to do with the ongoing Darfur peace negotiations in Doha.
Sources at the Chadian Foreign Ministry told the French press that a government delegation had been sent to eastern Chad to tell Dr. Khalil Ibrahim that he and his Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces would have to leave the country (AFP, January 11). JEM is the most effective opposition group in Darfur and the only one with national aspirations. Its largely Zaghawa leadership has maintained close ties to the Zaghawa president of Chad, Idriss Déby. While the Zaghawa of northern Chad and northern Darfur represent only 2 to 4% of the total population in both countries, they have developed a political and economic importance far greater than their numbers would indicate. A JEM spokesman stressed that the movement was not concerned by the rapprochement, insisting that JEM forces were “in Darfur, not in Chad” (Sudan Tribune, January 12). Nevertheless, JEM and other rebel groups in Darfur draw recruits from the over 250,000 Darfur refugees living in camps in eastern Chad.
On January 14, JEM reported that government planes were bombing the rebel stronghold at Jabal Mun in West Darfur, forcing hundreds of civilians to flee across the border to Chad (Sudan Tribune, January 14; AFP, January 13). JEM has also complained that Chadian rebels newly based in the Sayah district of North Darfur are “committing crimes against our people there” (Sudan Tribune, January 11).
Residents of al-Sayah have complained to aid groups that the Chadians were raping, beating and looting locals, mostly members of the non-Arab Berti tribe, as well as helping themselves to scarce quantities of water, livestock, food and firewood without compensation (Reuters, January 11). The United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reported the arrival of the Chadian fighters at al-Sayah on December 3, 2009. The appearance of an estimated 5,000 fighters in some 700 vehicles has put a severe strain on available resources. A Berti appeal to the regional governor to withdraw the rebels was met with a firm refusal, with the governor reportedly saying the rebels were there as part of an agreement to withdraw Chadian opposition groups from the border (al-Sahafa [Khartoum], December 19). JEM deputy chairman Muhammad Adam Bakhit claims the redeployment is designed to make the forces available for the defense of al-Fashir if it is threatened by the Darfur rebels (Sudan Tribune, January 20).
The Chadian forces belong to the Union des Forces de la Résistance (UFR), an umbrella group of rebels based in Darfur. The principal component of the UFR is the Rassemblement des Forces pour le Changement (RFC), whose Zaghawa leader, Timane Erdimi, is also leader of the UFR. Though Timane and his twin brother Tom are nephews of Chadian president Déby and former cabinet ministers in his government, they are now among his strongest opponents. Timane was sentenced to death in absentia in August, 2008. Most RFC fighters are Zaghawa defectors from the Garde Républicaine.
N’djamena and Khartoum have agreed to deploy a joint border patrol designed to prevent cross-border infiltration of armed groups. Enforcement of the terms of the new agreement may prove more difficult for the Chadian opposition groups than JEM. While JEM forces have bases within Darfur, the Chadian groups are based solely in Darfur and only emerge onto Chadian territory to carry out raids. JEM is largely armed from stocks captured from the Sudanese Armed Forces, while the Chadian groups rely on Khartoum for their arms. Expelling these groups from Sudan could result in the permanent loss of a potential asset that could be used against N’Djamena should relations falter once more in the pattern typical of Chadian-Sudanese relations. Khartoum will likely prefer to keep such forces away from the border for the time being and deploy them against Darfur rebel groups to earn their keep.
REBEL MOVEMENT SUGGESTS MALIAN GOVERNMENT DELIBERATELY DRIVING TUAREG TO AL-QAEDA
In a recent interview with an Algerian newspaper, a spokesman for the Tuareg rebel group Alliance Démocratique du 23 mai pour le Changement (ADC) suggested that the Malian government’s failure to implement a two and one-half year-old peace agreement was a direct cause of the growth of al-Qaeda forces in the Tuareg-dominated Kidal region of northern Mali (El Watan [Algiers], January 14).
Spokesman Hama Ag Sid Ahmed claims al-Qaeda forces in the area have grown from 250 to 800 members in the last year alone. At the same time, the Malian government has little presence in the region despite the commitment of vast sums of money for development projects. The absence of development efforts has been exacerbated by the return of drought to the area. The Tuareg “have a hard time understanding where their money has been spent.” The ADC claims the devastation brought by the drought has been subject to a news blackout orchestrated by Bamako. The result has been a steady alienation of the Malian Tuareg, especially the youth. The failure to provide development or security appears to the ADC to be a “premeditated wish to push these young people towards drugs, smuggling, or terrorism.” Hama Ag Sid Ahmed says he and others have warned young Tuareg against allowing their dissatisfaction with the government to lead them into a trap that will result in their destruction.
According to the ADC spokesman, forces belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) now consist of 800 full-time members and 200 auxiliary members. Hama Ag Sid Ahmed warns that AQIM’s tactic of kidnapping Westerners in the region has understandably drawn the attention of numerous Western intelligence agencies concerned with terrorism.
The non-Arab Tuareg (a branch of North Africa’s indigenous Berber people) have traditionally been rivals of the Arabs for control of large swathes of the Sahara. Sufi rather than Salafist, the Tuareg have until now had little reason to identify with the dominantly Arab and Salafist al-Qaeda movement. Asked how it was possible for Mali’s Tuareg to allow the growth of AQIM forces in their own region, Hama Ag Sig Ahmed explained that such growth was impossible when the Tuareg maintained security in the region before the Algiers Agreement of 2006. Since then, however, Bamako has taken over security for the region under the terms of the agreement, without, however, creating the Tuareg special security units called for by the agreement. While AQIM could not previously have been active in the region without the permission of the Tuareg, the latter have changed from “actors to observers”: “The Tuareg have always wanted to chase the terrorists out of the region, but the army officers prevented them from acting, telling them: ‘These matters do not concern you. You are citizens, stay far away. We will catch the terrorists. That is why we are here, and if you play at being the police we will arrest you.’ That is how the Malian Army reacts each time the Tuareg try to chase the Salafists.”