With a serious expression, a Sudanese warlord accused of genocide by survivors of the massacres in Darfur stands in front of hundreds of faces of victims of the one perpetrated against the Tutsi in 1994 in Rwanda. The scene may seem surreal. However, it takes place on January 6 in Kigali, in the aisles of the Genocide Memorial. General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, alias “Hemetti”, at war against the regular Sudanese army led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Bourhane, was invited to Rwanda as part of an unprecedented regional tour since the start of the conflict, on April 15, 2023.

“We Sudanese must learn from Rwanda. The war in our country must be the last. We must work to create a just and lasting peace,” he wrote in English on the social network X (formerly Twitter) following his visit. Elusive since the start of the conflict, speaking by voice messages to his fighters or by video from the basement of untraceable bunkers, Hemetti has survived rumors of his death.

In recent weeks, the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has been received with honors worthy of a head of state in Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda. A diplomatic coup for those who are trying to impose themselves at the head of Sudan while their paramilitary forces are gaining ground on the regular army, notably conquering the town of Wad Madani in December.

But while certain African leaders roll out the red carpet for him, his troops, from the Janjawid militias who sowed terror in Darfur from 2003, are accused of multiple war crimes and abuses against civilian populations in the territories that ‘they control. According to a report from the UN panel of experts sent to the Security Council on January 15 and which Le Monde was able to consult, the RSF, supported by local militias, are the main responsible for the massacres committed in West Darfur. , notably in Al-Geneina between June and November.

These killings left between 10,000 and 15,000 dead in this city alone, according to the United Nations. These figures, which exceed the death toll of 13,000 across the country, estimated by the NGO Armed Conflict Location

Around ten mass graves

The attacks “planned, coordinated and executed by the RSF and allied Arab militias,” which deliberately targeted “displaced persons camps, schools, mosques and hospitals,” could constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, according to the report.

“These systematic abuses primarily targeted the Massalit community [majority non-Arab ethnic group in the region], first targeting political and traditional elites, then lawyers, human rights activists, professors and finally civilians without distinction, notably many women victims of rape. What happened is genocide,” said Ibrahim Shamo, a member of a human rights organization.

UN experts also report several dozen kidnappings and rapes of women, including minors, by the RSF and their allies, while emphasizing that “the figure could be much higher”. On the road to exile towards Chad, bristling with checkpoints, “women and men were separated, harassed, searched, robbed and assaulted,” the document further relates: “The FSR and allied militias fired on hundreds of people, aiming at their legs to prevent them from fleeing. Young men were particularly targeted and questioned about their ethnic origins. If they were identified as Massalit, many of them were summarily executed with a bullet to the head. »

After a peak of violence in June, the RSF undertook a major cover-up of their crimes. Thousands of corpses were collected, loaded into the back of trucks and dumped in mass graves around Al-Geneina. The UN mission in Sudan estimated in June that it had received credible information on the existence of at least thirteen graves.

Several local and international NGOs have sounded the alarm. “But we struggled to be heard as the war in Sudan went under the radar. International attention is elsewhere, notes Ibrahim Shamo. However, we have collected thousands of testimonies, countless photos and evidence that incriminate the FSR. » Refugee in Chad, the human rights defender emphasizes that the death toll remains uncertain while more than 2,700 people remain missing.

In early November, the RSF launched an offensive on the army’s last stronghold in West Darfur, near Al-Geneina. While the 15th Infantry Division had established itself in the north of the Ardamata district, where many Massalit and other displaced people from non-Arab communities had taken refuge, the paramilitary assault resulted in massacres hundreds of Massalit civilians, some due to suspicion of belonging to a self-defense group.

More than 7 million displaced

Since June, around 550,000 people have fled Darfur to seek refuge in makeshift camps in Chad. More than nine months after the clash between the two rival generals began, more than 7 million Sudanese have been displaced, including nearly 1.5 million to neighboring countries.

The UN experts’ report also does not spare General Al-Bourhane’s Sudanese Armed Forces (FAS) for their responsibility in the outbreak of violence and the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. In addition to the arbitrary arrests of hundreds of civilians suspected of links with the enemy, the regular army commits multiple abuses against the population, particularly by air. Routed in Darfur, cornered in Khartoum, the FAS have increased air raids on residential areas, killing hundreds of civilians.

In addition, the general staff, corrupted by Islamist executives nostalgic for the fallen regime of Omar Al-Bashir, is carrying out a massive campaign to recruit civilians in the areas under its control. Nicknamed “Popular Resistance”, these groups, most often formed on ethnic grounds, raise fears of an increase in violence between communities.

“The RSF are responsible for war crimes, but it is important to remember that the game of ethnic division is played on both sides. In the long term, this game is extremely dangerous. If we are not yet faced with a full-blown civil war, we are witnessing a recruitment of society and a multiplication of armed groups. The war could enter a less readable phase, fragmented into local clashes,” analyzes Clément Deshayes, researcher at the Development Research Institute (IRD).

For their part, the FSR managed to rally thousands of fighters thanks to their significant financial resources, but also by relying on a speech praising the figure of the warrior and the supremacy of the nomadic Arabs of the region. “Hemetti united under one banner all the Arab clans of Darfur. Its forces are even recruiting in Chad and as far away as Niger. But he will hardly be able to reign over Sudan. He does not have the support of the rest of the population, exasperated by his scorched earth policy,” said a Chadian official based near the border.

Support from the United Arab Emirates

The UN report also sheds light on the RSF’s external support and supply lines. Confirming information previously published by Le Monde, the experts underline in particular the decisive support from the United Arab Emirates from which the paramilitaries benefit. The report establishes several deliveries of fuel and weapons from South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, but especially Chad, orchestrated by the Emirates, which has established itself as a central partner of the regime of Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Déby.

These revelations are firmly denied by Abu Dhabi. Sudan, a country rich in resources and a strategic crossroads between the Sahel and the Red Sea, is nevertheless at the heart of a competition that goes beyond its borders, as evidenced by the delivery of Iranian Mohajer-6 drones to the regular army, according to reports. information from the World.

Hemetti’s African tour is making the regular army cringe. The government based in Port Sudan, in the east of the country, recalled its ambassador to Kenya after the visit of its enemy and suspended its participation in the bodies of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which was to organize in January a tête-à-tête between the two rival generals.

During the regional organization’s extraordinary summit, held on January 18 in Entebbe, Uganda, only Hemetti was present. On the sidelines of the meeting, he said he was ready for a ceasefire, meeting in particular with the European Union envoy for the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, the warlord achieved a political coup by signing an agreement with the main civilian opposition force in exile, led by former Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok.

But if General Hemetti advances his pawns on the political and diplomatic grounds, both camps continue to favor the military option to defeat their enemy and conquer power.