Weapons from Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya have been smuggled into Sudan by the leading rebel group in the western Darfur region, increasing the risk of renewed conflict there.
“We are very much concerned about it,” Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations, said today. The rebel Justice and Equality Movement brought as many as 100 truckloads of weapons across the border within the past two weeks, he said. The move followed the return to Sudan of JEM leader Ibrahim Khalil, a Qaddafi ally, from Libya.
The U.K.’s ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said after a meeting of the UN Security Council that his government is concerned about reports it received of Libyan weapons entering Sudan. Herve Ladsous, head of UN peacekeeping, said Qaddafi moved arms from military depots to factories and other sites with “little or no security” as the conflict in Libya escalated.
The UN has reported progress toward ending the eight-year-old conflict in Darfur. The number of armed attacks has declined 70 percent in the past three years, Ibrahim Gambari, head of the joint UN and African peacekeeping mission in Darfur, said on Sept. 14.
Insurgents in Darfur took up arms in 2003, accusing President Umar al-Bashir’s government of neglecting the region. The conflict has led to the deaths of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, and forced about 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to UN estimates. The Sudanese government has put the death toll at about 10,000.
JEM boycotted the signing of a Qatar-brokered peace agreement between al-Bashir’s government and the Liberation and Justice Movement, a smaller rebel faction. Sudanese government forces clashed with members of JEM on Sept. 20 near the border with Libya and Chad, state-run SUNA news agency reported.
The Security Council focused today on efforts to ease tensions along the border of Sudan and the new Republic of South Sudan, particularly in the disputed Abyei region.
The council is considering deployment of UN troops along the Sudan-South Sudan border, adding that task to the peacekeeping mission established in Abyei in June.
Concerns were also raised about the refusal of Sudan’s government to honor the Sept. 8 agreement of both countries to withdraw their troops from Abyei by Sept. 30. South Sudan’s Ambassador David Choat said all of his government’s forces had pulled out, while Sudan’s Osman said Khartoum wouldn’t withdraw its troops until the UN peacekeeping mission was fully deployed.
Choat asked the Security Council to set a new deadline for Sudan’s withdrawal.
Ladsous said only 1,870 of the 4,200 Ethiopian troops that will comprise the UN mission have arrived in Abyei. Lyall Grant said the Sept. 8 agreement wasn’t contingent on their deployment.
Ladsous said it was important to stabilize the region before the annual migration next month of Misseriya nomads. Their cattle drive south was blocked last year.
“This year’s migration will be more sensitive and a test of the relationship between the two countries,” Ladsous said. “It could become a potential source of serious tensions in the Aybei area if armed forces remain in place.”
Abyei is contested between the region’s Ngok Dinka people, who are settled in the area and consider themselves southerners, and the Misseriya nomads who are supported by the government in Khartoum.