This blog, by Eric Reeves, who follows Sudan closely, is well worth reading.


Eric Reeves | August 4, 2015

On July 5, 2015 the Embassy of the United States in Khartoum issued a remarkable statement, although it was judged newsworthy by only the Sudan Tribune and Radio Dabanga:

“We note with grave concern reports that on June 25 [2015] the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) attacked against civilians in gold mining areas near the town of Talodi, in Southern Kordofan state,” said the embassy in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Sunday.

“The targeting of civilians is a violation of international humanitarian law.”

“We urge the SPLM-N, all other armed groups, and the Government of Sudan to cease hostilities, to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular with regard to the protection of civilians, and to ensure safe, timely, and unhindered access for aid organizations,” said the embassy. (Sudan Tribune, July 5, 2015)

It is of course a “violation of international law” to “target civilians,” but the party in the conflict in South Kordofan responsible for the overwhelming majority of such attacks is the Khartoum regime—through its regular army forces (the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF), its air force, and its paramilitary militias, including the Popular Defense Forces, and (until recently) the Rapid Response Forces (RSF), widely regarded as the “new Janjaweed” in Darfur, although much more heavily armed and more robustly supplied by Khartoum than the “old Janjaweed.”

And it is Khartoum that is responsible for all aerial attacks on civilians in South Kordofan, particularly in the Nuba Mountains (see below recent and compelling reportage by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, based on his dangerous trip into the Nuba Mountains).

So why did the U.S. Embassy statement single out the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North for criticism on this occasion? Which “reports” did the Embassy “note with concern? They are not characterized in the release, and all my efforts to secure information about these reports from the U.S. State Department have proved futile.

What makes these questions especially exigent is the slow but clearly progressing rapprochement between the Obama administration and the Khartoum regime—a process driven by the U.S. intelligence community, which has long had primary say in defining U.S. Sudan policy. Some U.S. economic sanctions have been lifted over the past year, diminishing pressure on a genocidal regime; recent discussions in Khartoum apparently focused on expanding Sudanese agricultural exports to the U.S., potentially providing the regime with access to U.S. dollars and the American financial system. Also recently, senior officials of the Khartoum regime—headed by a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity—have been invited to the United States or allowed entrance. Thuggish political operative and presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour was officially invited by the Obama administration in February to meet with White House and State Department officials. On returning to Khartoum, Sudan Tribune reports,

The political secretary of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Mustafa Osman Ismail said the visit of presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour to Washington is part of an ongoing dialogue between the two countries. The pro-government Sudan Media Center quoted Ismail as saying that Ghandour will discuss with the U.S. administration ways for promoting bilateral ties in various domains besides efforts aiming at lifting economic and political sanctions imposed on Sudan. (February 8, 2015)

Several days later Sudan Tribune again reported on Ghandour’s trip; Ghandour’s comments were particularly important since they clearly had the endorsement of al-Bashir:

Sudanese presidential assistant [Ibrahim Ghandour] said he agreed with U.S. officials to resume dialogue on bilateral relations, adding he met with officials at the State Department and the White House. Ibrahim Ghandour met Monday with the president Omer al-Bashir to brief him about the outcome of his talks with the American officials during his recent visit to Washington. “We agreed to continue the dialogue which may resume soon, either in Khartoum or Washington,” Ghandour told reporters after the meeting with president Bashir. (Sudan Tribune, February 16, 2015)

And just two days later Sudan Tribune reported on the outcome of these “exchanges”: “Khartoum praises Washington’s easing of economic sanctions” (February 18):

The Sudanese government has welcomed the United States move to ease sanctions imposed on Sudan and allow exports of personal communications hardware and software expecting further steps in the coming days. The United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced on Tuesday that is amending Sudan’s sanctions to allow exports of personal communications hardware and software including smart phones and laptops.

The U.S. special envoy to Sudans Donald Booth on Tuesday emphasised that this move aims to help ordinary citizens by connecting them to the rest of the world and to further free speech.


Donald Both, third—and current—Obama administration special envoy for Sudan

Booth, the third of Obama’s special envoys for Sudan/South Sudan—none with anything to show for his efforts, at least as far as the people of the Sudans are concerned—here joins in the disingenuousness that has characterized his two predecessors (Scott Gration and Princeton Lyman). The notion that the allowing the import of communications hardware and software will “connect Sudanese to the rest of the world” in any politically meaningful sense is sheer nonsense and Booth knows it. During the civilian uprising of September 2013, involving thousands of people in cities across Sudan, one of the first steps by the regime was to shut down Internet access, over which it enjoys a virtual monopoly. Only when the worst of the violent crackdown was over (see below) was service restored. Personal communication devices are much more likely to be purchased on behalf of the security services, which certainly covet them. But fewer and fewer Sudanese can afford such high-tech purchases, and to pretend otherwise is simply to ignore governing economic conditions in the country.

Also in February of this year Foreign Minister Ali Karti was allowed into the U.S. to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast, also attended by many notables, including the Dalai Lama and President Obama. This invitation and permission to enter the United States came despite Karti’s brutal past (he head the Popular Defense Forces in the late 1990s, when some of the worst atrocities were committed in the long civil war, particularly in South Kordofan). Karti has also been Khartoum’s point-man in denying that any sexual assaults occurred in Tabit, North Darfur in late October 2014—this despite overwhelming evidence provided by Human Rights Watch that more than 200 girls and women were raped by SAF soldiers, at the urging of their commander.


Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti, formerly head of the brutally destructive and murderous Popular Defense Forces (late 1990s) and the regime official most outspoken in denying the rape of more than 200 girls and women in Tabit, North Darfur—a denial that flies in the face of overwhelming evidence of the sexual assaults assembled by Human Rights Watch

And at the very end of February, in response to the visits by Ghandour and Karti, the Obama administration in late February arranged a visit to Khartoum by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Steven Feldstein (the regime will not issue special envoy Booth a visa and Feldstein has no particular knowledge of Sudan or the regime). What is most notable about the State Department press release as Feldstein completed his mission was the incoherence of his comments about the “National Dialogue,” which had long been seen for the charade it was by the major political and rebel coalitions in Sudan, and privately characterized as a mere political stratagem by the regime itself:

“[Feldstein] reiterated U.S. support for an inclusive and comprehensive National Dialogue to resolve Sudan’s conflicts” (State Department media note, 28 February 2015).

Feldstein’s fatuous support for the patently untenable and utterly expedient “National Dialogue” promoted by the regime was yet another concession to the Khartoum regime, even as Feldstein was obliged to admit as well that:

[The U.S.] position on the Darfur issue has not changed, and that he has not seen any improvement in the situation in Darfur, or other war zones. (Radio Dabanga, March 1, 2015) (As we will see, the Obama administration’s “position on Darfur” remains one that excludes the region from consideration in negotiations over the most important bilateral issues between Khartoum and Washington.)

Finally, President Omar al-Bashir, génocidaire-in-chief, has very recently again making noises about attending this year’s opening of the UN in September; last year a feckless U.S. State Department neither granted nor denied a visa for al-Bashir; but this year we may expect Khartoum’s demand to be a good deal more insistent. If al-Bashir is allowed into the United States, it will be a sign that Khartoum’s leverage with the U.S. is growing.


Omar al-Bashir, President of the Khartoum regime and indicted by the International Criminal Court for multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur

Of course rapprochement is not a one-way street.

Heavy economic sanctions remain in place, and the U.S. stands as the major obstacle to debt relief for Sudan, which now runs to approximately $47 billion. Such massive external debt cannot be serviced, given present economic circumstances in Sudan—let alone repaid. Debt relief is essential for continuing survival of the regime, although the economy is collapsing and even debt relief cannot reverse most trends in evidence unless profligate borrowing comes in the near term (which of course in the medium term only further weakens the Sudanese economy).

For its part, Khartoum continually dangles the prospect of greater counter-terrorism intelligence, and for the past ten years, that enticement has been enough to seduce the intelligence community under President George W. Bush and—to a greater extent—President Obama. No matter that in secret meetings, minutes of which have been leaked by someone within this now deeply riven regime, senior officials are heard ridiculing what is provided to the U.S. Triumph was the conspicuous note in the declaration by former Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein (indicted by the International Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity in Darfur during the years in which he served as Minister of the Interior):

“America is facing the crisis of the ISIS and the other Jihadist movements that are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks. Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) Jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed Jihadist Movements who are scattered all over, from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all the Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody owns a database on that as the one we have. We release only limited information to the Americans [and only] according to [their specific] request, and the price is the armed movements file. The coming days carry a lot of surprises.” (page 21 of minutes) (emphasis added)

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Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, former Minister of Defense, and Minister of the Interior during the most destructive years—to date—of the Darfur genocide; indicted by the International Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity

The meaning of the last emphasized phrase here—“the price is the armed movements file”—is ambiguous and potentially quite ominous. The “armed movements” certainly include the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N), which in fact is part of the coalition of armed groups—the Sudan Revolutionary Front—attempting to topple the tyranny in Khartoum. But what is notable about the SPLA-N (the military wing of the movement) is that it is commanded by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, without doubt the most principled military commander in the ghastly conflict raging in South Kordofan, and the commander with the most integrity and field command skills.


Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North

Those who know him—directly or indirectly through multiple contacts and friends in common—are fully convinced that Abdel Aziz simply would not allow the atrocity crime described by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum on July 5, 2015 concerning events near Talodi, South Kordofan. His character as a man and as a military leader simply would not allow him to countenance such an attack—or to allow it to go unpunished. He well understands that even as his forces have fought Khartoum’s military to a standstill over more than four years, he has prevailed precisely by not committing atrocity crimes of the sort that are committed daily by the SAF and its militia allies. In short, it is highly doubtful that whatever event occurred near Talodi is accurately represented by the U.S. Embassy statement. Abdel Aziz is fighting on behalf of the people of South Kordofan, his own people; Khartoum is fighting to destroy them.

Indeed, it is not clear that the Embassy made any effort to get an account of the incident from the SPLA-N, although there are certainly channels available. If such an effort had been made, the Embassy would have discovered that SPLA-N senior staff strongly deny that any but SAF soldiers were killed or wounded near Talodi on June 25. A senior SPLM-N official apprised the State Department of the fact that this was an area in which Khartoum’s militia forces were known to operate. If this information is available to an American researcher, why was it not sought by the U.S. Embassy? Would it not have been appropriate to include the SPLA-N denial that their forces had committed any atrocity crime near Talodi?

In fact, there is no characterization whatsoever of the “reports” that generated the Embassy statement; and we may be sure that no one from the Embassy made any effort to ascertain the facts on the ground. Among other hindrances would have been Khartoum itself, which does not want any investigation in any part of South Kordofan. The reason is obvious: one cannot travel in anywhere in the region without coming across multiple sites where atrocity crimes by the SAF have indeed been committed. But without on-the-ground investigation, and without seeking a response from the SPLA-N, what do these “reports” consist of? And why won’t the U.S. State Department respond to queries about sources for the “reports,” even if only providing their character without any names attached?

This looks like nothing so much as a grotesque “trading chit” in the rapprochement effort by the Obama administration: “Look, we condemned the SPLA-N, so you can’t say we have criticized only your SAF and militias as responsible for atrocities in South Kordofan.” This of course ignores the most basic fact, already noted, that the overwhelming number of atrocity crimes that have been investigated—by Human Rights Watch, by Amnesty International, and by a great many intrepid journalists for major news media—are clearly the responsibility of Khartoum. Moreover, they reflect a clear strategic choice in how to wage war against the people of South Kordofan, the people of the Nuba Mountains in particular. The recent reportage by Nicholas Kristof includes an unsparing documentary (10 minutes) that captures some of what relentless aerial attacks mean in the lives of the people of the Nuba:

“The Worst Atrocity You’ve Never Heard of,” New York Times, July 13, 2015 | (the accompanying documentary has same URL)

“A Rain of Bombs in the Nuba Mountains,” New York Times, June 20, 2015

[Profile of Dr. Tom Catena of the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel (near Kauda), Nuba Mountains], New York Times, June 27, 2015