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Sudan’s battle for control


WORLD Radio - Sudan’s battle for control

Rival generals demolish hopes for a democratic Sudan

Moroccan citizens repatriated from Sudan, arrive to the Mohammed V International Airport, in Casablanca, Morocco, Wednesday April 26, 2023. AP Photo

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 27th of April, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. First up: what’s behind the struggle in Sudan.

As you heard moments ago, fighting in the streets of Khartoum has escalated such that nations around the world are evacuating their citizens from Sudan. What sparked this conflict, and what’s at stake?

REICHARD: Joseph Siegle is a senior research fellow at the National Defense University in Maryland. He says that two people are at the center of this fight.

JOSEPH SIEGLE: You have the head of the statutory forces, General Burhan, who has been the de facto head of state since he led a coup in October of 2021. And with him has been a paramilitary force led by General Hamdan Delgalo, commonly referred to as Hemedti, who has his own force. It's been operating more as a militia. But both are very well armed.

Well armed, and ambitious as it turns out.

Rama Yade is the former French Ambassador to UNESCO and now directs the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. She says that despite their collaboration to overthrow autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019, Burhan and Hemedti turned on each other.

RAMA YADE: instead of working together to organize the peace process, and the transition to democracy and elections, they have decided to fight each other, to see which of them, who among their troops would take would take the control on the army and on the economy and on the on the country. That's what it is about.

BROWN: According to Yade, military companies dominate the economy, and with the military in control, those companies don’t have to pay taxes. But if the country transitions to a civilian government, those companies would be forced to come under the ministry of finance. That’s something General Hemedti and his paramilitary forces don’t want.

REICHARD: So this is a conflict between rivals, but there’re also concerns about international involvement. Last week, CNN released an exclusive report that a joint operation by Hemedti’s forces and Libyan fighters is linked to a mercenary group affiliated with Russia. In this clip, you’ll hear Hemedti’s forces, the Rapid Support Forces, referred to as RSF.

CNN: CNN can reveal that the fight in Khartoum is being influenced by what was happening at that garrison. A Russian resupply campaign backed by a key regional player aimed at turning the tide in Sudan's war in favor of the RSF who have been a key recipient of Russian training and military aid.

Siegle says this key regional player, known as the Wagner Group, is not new to Sudan.

SIEGLE: Wagner, which is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has been operating in Sudan for the last several years. I think we could trace it back to 2017, where they had been assisting the previous government led by the longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir. And when he was ousted as a result of popular protest in 2019, Wagner shifted its alliances to the military government. And this has taken several forms, one has been helping train and advise the military government, encouraging them to use harsher tactics against protesters.

BROWN: Wagner and Hemedti deny their collaboration, but it appears that Wagner is supplying Hemedti’s militia forces with surface to air missiles in exchange for gold.

SIEGLE: There's significant gold deposits in parts of western and northern Sudan. And the Russians through Wagner have worked very closely with Hemedti in mining and trafficking that gold. So Russia has some very close and, you know, very direct interest in what's happening in Sudan.

But while the Russians may be putting a finger on the scales, they are not responsible for the underlying conflict.

The Wagner Group has been supplying Hemedti with weapons in exchange for access to Sudan’s gold. But Yade says Russia’s objective is not to push one side of the conflict over the finish line.

YADE: No matter what Wagner wants to do, or tries to take advantage of the of the local situation, Russia itself is trying to keep a balance between the two parties, because Russians need to be on the side of the winners.

But is this a winnable situation?

SIEGLE: Civilian leaders are ready to move forward. They're very organized, they have a platform, they have a plan for doing so. I think the real issue is, you know, how to de-escalate the political ambitions of the two generals and to reinforce to them that there just isn't an end game for them, that they're not going to be recognized as a leader, even if they were to prevail against their rival. And really, the United States with its allies, with regional partners, should be looking at ways of negotiating the exits of both General Burhan and General Hemedti, so that they can transition, they can move into exile in some third party country in the region. And therefore remove those political obstacles to what most Sudanese want, which is a transition to democracy.

REICHARD: For now, the conflict continues. Many Sudanese people are fleeing the country, and others are trying to survive with little to no access to food, medicine, or electricity. That transition to democracy looks a long way off.

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