Sudan arrests powerful Darfur militia leader

Musa Hilal arriving in Khartoum under arrest, November 27, 2017 (social media)

Sudan has arrested a militia leader sanctioned by the United Nations for alleged war crimes, following clashes in Darfur last Sunday.

Musa Hilal was a prominent leader in the Darfur Arab militia known as the ‘Janjaweed, which played a key role in suppressing an insurgency that erupted in 2003. As a reward for his service he was appointed presidential advisor to Omar al-Bashir in 2008.

The president and militia chief later had a falling out, and Hilal’s militia since has clashed with Sudanese regular forces in Darfur.

On Sunday, a Sudanese general and nine soldiers were killed in clashes with Hilal’s forces in his home area of Misteriya in North Darfur, after the soldiers’ vehicle was ambushed by the militants, the official state news agency reported.

The clashes came in the context of a disarmament campaign targeting Hilal’s militia.

The slain officer was later identified as Brigadier Abdelrahim Gumma, director of general of supplies in the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, according to a separate statement by the RSF spokesman Colonel Abdelrahman El Jaali.

Sudanese officials did not elaborate on how militia leader Musa Hilal was taken into custody following the clashes in Misteriya, though photos of him on social media show him disheveled and weary upon his arrival in Khartoum on a flight from Dafur in the wake of his arrest.

Hilal’s son Habeeb was also detained in the clashes in North Darfur, Sudan’s Defence Minister, Lt Gen Ali Mohamed Salem told the state new agency, adding that 50 members of Hilal’s ‘Awakening Council’ were also arrested, of whom 30 have already been transferred to Khartoum.

Members of Hilal’s entourage, fighters and perceived civilian supporters were targeted in government operations around Misteriya over the past week following the crackdown on Hilal, according to reports by Radio Dabanga, an exile radio service covering Darfur.

The radio reported “a campaign of arrests of youths and men conducted by the RSF (Rapid Support Forces),” adding, “Misteriya area has been besieged and all the roads leading to it were closed since the events broke out Sunday.”

Reports in Sudanese media and statements by aid groups and the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) suggest that a number of civilians were killed in fighting around Misteriya. One member of parliament put the number of civilian dead at 12.