U.N. experts say rebel groups in Darfur that signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government in 2020 continue to operate in Libya and profit from opportunities provided by the civil war and lack of government control in the oil-rich north African nation.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Friday, the panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Sudan stemming from the 2003 Darfur conflict said several sources in the rebel movements said they have no intention of completely withdrawing from Libya because they get most of their financing and supplies, including food and fuel, from engagements there.
They quoted one commander as saying: “We will have one foot in Darfur and one foot in Benghazi,” the main city in eastern Libya which is the stronghold of forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Hifter.
Libya plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. It then became divided between rival governments — one in the east, backed by Hifter, and a U.N.-supported administration in the capital Tripoli, each supported by different militias and foreign powers.
In April 2019, Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the U.N.-supported government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
An October 2020 cease-fire agreement called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Libya and led to an agreement on a transitional government in early February 2021. Elections that were supposed to be held on Dec. 24 have been delayed.
The panel of experts said despite the cease-fire agreement’s call for foreign forces to leave, “most of the Darfurian groups in Libya continued to work under the Libyan National Army,” securing areas and manning checkpoints.
In return for their work, the experts said, the five main Darfur rebel movements that signed the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement were receiving payments and logistical support.
According to several unidentified sources in the movements, the experts said the money and support were agreed on in meetings between their military commanders and UAE representatives in Libya. “The payments were provided by the United Arab Emirates and channeled to the movements by the Libyan National Army, which took a cut,” the panel said.
“In the recent months with relative peace in Libya and the announcement of elections, there is pressure on the signatory Darfurian armed groups to leave Libya,” the panel said. “The payments to the Darfurian groups have been reduced.”
Sudan had been on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising forced the military to remove autocratic President Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government in April 2019. But an October military coup has plunged the country into turmoil.
The Juba Peace Agreement was seen as a breakthrough in the conflict in the vast western region of Darfur that began when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies.
The experts said the UAE saw the Juba agreement as the basis for a successful transition and recommended that the Darfurian movements join the government. They said the UAE argued that it did not finance or arm the movements, and focused on health and education efforts as well as helping Sudan and other regional countries control their borders.
At a meeting in November, the panel said, the UAE responded to allegations of possible financial or military support to Darfurian forces both in Sudan and Libya by referring “to its country’s moderate position and struggle against extremism and hate speech.”
One major Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement-Army, led by Abdel-Wahid Nour, has refused to sign the Juba agreement and rejected the original military-civilian transitional government formed after al-Bashir’s ouster.
The experts said the rebel group also has a presence in Libya and continues to take advantage of revenue from the Torroye gold mine in its stronghold in Jebel Marra and a gold mine near Danaya in South Darfur “to strengthen its capability.”
The panel said it received information that UAE authorities had seized gold linked to one of the Darfurian movements and is seeking additional information.
It also reported that violations of the arms embargo against Sudan continued with the transfer of arms and other military materiel into Darfur.