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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08KHARTOUM1691 2008-11-21 11:15:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Khartoum
Cable title:  

UPSURGE IN FIGHTING IN NORTH DARFUR

Tags:   ASEC PGOV PREL KPKO UN AU SU 
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1. (C) Rebel, UNAMID and NGO contacts confirmed fighting in
and around Helif, North Darfur between November 18 and 20.
SLA/AW commander Suleiman Marajane told emboffs that on
November 20 his forces attacked a SAF position in Helif at
7:00 am. (Note: Helif was previously under the control of
SLA/AW and Marajane's forces, but the SAF has captured this
location and several others on North Darfur from the rebels
in recent months. End note.) Subsequently, according to
Marajane, two GOS Antonovs and two MI-24 attack helicopters
bombed the villages surrounding Helif and destroyed them.
Marajane reported that three civilians were killed, but later
told the press that five of his fighters were killed. UNAMID
and media sources reported roughly the same information, also
based on calls with Marajane and even from SAF sources who
confirmed bombing attacks against "bandits" and to guard
convoys.



2. (C) Khalil Tukras, a human rights lawyer and close embassy
contact with expert knowledge of the area and close contact
with the rebels, cautioned the Embassy against accepting the
reports of civilian casualties at face value. He said that
most civilians had left the area following fighting earlier
in the week on November 18, and previous rounds of fighting
over the last two months. UNAMID contacts reported SAF
bombing of Marajane's positions outside Helif on November 18,
in response to Marajane's attempts to recapture the town.
Tukras told CDA Fernandez and polchief November 19 that
Marajane and other rebel forces north of El Fasher are
increasingly cornered and cut off from their supply routes
based on aggressive SAF moves over the last two months deep
into rebel territory. The SAF has effectively if temporarily
cut rebels off from supplies arriving from Libya by
controlling an arc of territory across north Darfur. SAF has
also sought to control good wells and smugglers' markets that
sustain the rebels, chiefly SLA/Unity, and SLA/AW (Marajane's
forces) in central North Darfur state (JEM and SLA-MM being
usually more closely situated nearer the Chadian border in
North Darfur). Tukras said that in addition to Helif, the
SAF has taken control of Jebel Eisa and El Hara, which were
JEM re-supply and rest points when it made its bold May 2008
journey across Darfur and Kordofan to attack Omdurman.
Tukras predicted that Helif, Kutum, and Mellit are likely to
be continued flash points in the coming weeks as rebels seek
to regain control of North Darfur.



3. (C) Tukras characterized the rebels as being in an
increasingly weakened state, reliant at this point on attacks
on SAF positions in order to steal weapons, ammunition, and
other supplies. He said JEM is the only force capable of
mounting a significant attack at this point, while the other
rebels are mostly in a defensive mode. Tukras said that
based on his information JEM has 80 vehicles just West of
Jebel Eissa and could take this position back from the
government in the coming weeks. He noted that Eritrea was
less forthcoming in assistance to the rebels given the
improvement of relations with Khartoum. The last major Libyan
resupply for Darfuri rebels he was aware of had gone to SLA
fighters from Eastern Jebel Marra in June - 15 vehicles. Chad
had helped JEM but not all the rebels and in any case, Chad
supplied the Darfuri rebels "not from its own sources, but
from those of Libya or captured Chadian rebel stocks."



4. (C) UNAMID UNDSS officer Frazer King confirmed this
information based on site visits to the areas, but told
poloff November 20 that the SAF is overextended from its own
supply chain in El Fasher and has taken positions that it
cannot feasibly defend, therefore he expects continued
fighting between the government and rebels, with the rebels
recapturing some locations. King said he felt that UNAMID
was taking too soft a position on the SAF military actions
against rebels in recent weeks based on (in his opinion)
false claims that the SAF is clearing the areas of bandits.
King noted that there has been no decrease in banditry,
therefore the SAF actions obviously had no impact on bandits
but were in fact meant to consolidate government gains
against the rebels.



5. (C) Tukras and UNAMID reported that 500 Arab militia

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previously located west of Kebkabiya have now relocated north
of Kebkabiya at the request of the SAF, either to "keep them
occupied" or in preparation for a new offensive. These are
the "Jund Mazlum" (oppressed soldiers), former janjaweed
paramilitaries, who feel mistreated by the GOS for having
waged the regime's war in Darfur but not having been fully
incorporated into the uniformed services with military
officer ranks. The "Jund Mazlum" have actually taken up arms
at times and attacked government forces over the past year.
Tukras noted that this is an ongoing problem given the number
of former Arab militia who have over the last year been
incorporated into the SAF, the BIF (Border Intelligence
Forces), or the CRP (Central Reserve Police) while neglecting
some Arab militia such as these in Kebkabiya. UNAMID's Joint
Mission Analysis Center (JMAC) director Colonel Serge Kuhn
confirmed this information and speculated that the government
will need to find a way to incorporate these forces into the
army or "do something with them" to prevent them from
permanently becoming a renegade force of their own.



6. (C) Comment: It is by now obvious that the government's
"immediate and unconditional" cease-fire is meaningless until
the international community and UNAMID can force a real
cease-fire monitoring mechanism on it - and even then the
government is likely to continue to attempt to make gains
against the rebels until there is a comprehensive peace
agreement. Just as it did during negotiations with the
South, the regime will attempt to consolidate gains even
while negotiating. Rebels will also seek to provoke SAF and
to take advantage of over-extended supply lines. We are
likely to witness an upsurge in fighting in North Darfur as a
result, as increasingly desperate rebels attempt to retake
positions from the government. The Arab militia located
outside of Kebkabiya bears close scrutiny, as it could turn
against the government if its demands for additional pay and
official military ranks are not ultimately met. End comment.
FERNANDEZ