Darfur — The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) strongly denounce the handing of two North Darfur peacekeeping bases to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
In a joint statement, Mohamed Hasan Haroun and Jibril Bilal, the spokesmen for the SLM-MM and JEM respectively, condemn the recent handover by the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (Unamid) of its North Darfur sites in Mellit and El Malha localities to the RSF government militia.
According to the two rebel movements, the handover is illegal, as the agreement signed between the Government of Sudan and Unamid concerning the downsizing of the troops stipulates that any property left by Unamid should be handed over to the local authorities, and is to be used for civilian purposes only.
The spokesmen state that the "RSF militia are currently using these facilities to undertake their notorious atrocities against innocent civilians". They have been informed that RSF paramilitaries have already detained more than 700 people in these two localities.
The movements call on the international community "to strongly condemn this unlawful act" and urge the UN and AU to urge the Sudanese government to order the RSF "to immediately evacuate the above-mentioned property".
In August, Unamid left its sites in Mellit and El Malha in North Darfur, in a downsizing operation decided by the UN Security Council in June.
On 29 June, the UNSC renewed Unamid's mandate until 30 June next year. It also decided on a reduction of the peacekeepers "in two six-month phases while closely monitoring the situation on the ground."
More than a third of the nearly 19,000 Unamid military troops and police officers will be withdrawn.
Darfur displaced, Sudanese politicians, and international activists have all warned for the consequences of a reduction of the number of peacekeepers.
The withdrawal of peacekeepers "will make several key areas unsafe for humanitarian operations, likely leading to closures of programmes upon which tens of thousands of conflict-affected people rely," Omer Ismail of the Enough Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, said.
According to the Sudan Democracy First Group, the situation on the ground in Darfur did not support the stated reasons for the reduction of the mission. Cutting the number of Unamid forces will leave civilians in Darfur "more vulnerable to abuses of all kinds by the Sudanese army, paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and other militias operating in the region," the Kampala-based Sudanese think-tank said.
"The planned cuts reflect a false narrative about Darfur's war ending," Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch commented. "There is no reason to believe that government attacks on civilians and other abuses have ended since the same security forces remain in place; they have never been prosecuted for their crimes and can't be relied on to protect civilians."
Unamid has come under criticism in the past for not doing enough to protect civilians from being raped or killed. The mission itself has repeatedly complained of a lack of cooperation from the Sudanese government.
Khartoum began to push for the exit of the peacekeeping mission after Unamid officials urged an investigation into the mass rape in Tabit in North Darfur that took place on 31 October 2014.