February 18, 2023 (KHARTOUM) – The decrease in revenue from mercenary activities in Libya led signatory and non-signatory Darfur groups to direct their efforts to gold mining in Jebel Marra, and other commercial and criminal activities.
The panel of Darfur experts under the resolution 1591 related to an arms embargo on Darfur and individual sanctions on some warlords and army commanders issued its latest report on February 7.
The report deals largely with the criminal and business activities of Darfur armed groups which rebelled against the Sudanese army in 2003.
Seen by Sudan Tribune, the report estimated the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM/AW), is the largest force in Libya with 300 vehicles, while the SLM of Minni Minnawi has 100 vehicles. The other groups have small combatants.
With the end of fighting between the Libyan rival groups after the formation of a national unity government, the mercenaries receive small amounts, whereas they received over one million dollars monthly during wartime.
The SLM/AW is the only group, according to the report, that continues to generate financing from gold mining in the group-controlled areas in south-eastern Darfur, despite the decline of revenue.
“The number of workers operating at the mines was reported to be significantly less, with sources claiming the decrease to be about 90 per cent of the employment levels seen during the peak mining period in 2020,” reads the report.
The holdout group has established its own network to sell its gold through South Sudan. The panel said there was a business relationship through the Fur community in Nyala. Hover a prominent gold grader Ahmed Saleh who collaborated with the rebel group was assassinated in February 2022.
With regard to other business activities in South Sudan, the panel mentioned that the group has invested in agriculture and transportation companies in cooperation with the local Dinka elites.
“Agriculture labour was provided by prisoners detained by SLA/AW in South Sudan. The (holdout group) also collected contributions from Fur traders based in South Sudan,” added the report.
The group has a sesame schema in Jau of Ruweng Administrative Area, in South Sudan.
During the 2021/22 agricultural season, the SLM-AW’s Black Gold Enterprises cultivated around 36.5 metric tons of sesame and used it for the production of sesame oil which became an additional source of income.
After the sharp reduction in payments from mercenary activities, the signatories of the Juba peace agreement turned to legal and illegal business and commercial activities to support themselves.
Some groups were operating checkpoints within Libya, collecting taxes from trucks. Others transported water and smuggled oil to Sudan and Chad.
“A member of one armed movement informed the Panel that smuggling an oil tanker truck from Libya to the Chad border and to the Sudan generated profits of $10,000 and $20,000, respectively”.
Further, some signatory groups smuggle arms, drugs and commercial goods and provide protection to migrant traffickers, in cooperation with local criminal groups in the region.
These illegal activities created tensions and friction between the government forces and the signatories. The report cited an accident that took place in October 2022 when a joint Sudanese government force intercepted a convoy belonging to a signatory group and carrying commercial and contraband items from Libya.
“The signatory armed movement called in reinforcements, leading to heightened tensions and potential conflict. The situation was resolved after negotiations between the armed movements and the government authorities”.
In another accident, the North Darfur police detained a contraband consignment coming from Libya and allegedly containing drugs. The police were surrounded and threatened by forces from the signatory group. The stand-off was sorted out after negotiations.
For the smaller groups including non-signatories, the situation was more difficult. They resorted to selling cars or dismantling them for spare parts and selling their weapons to support themselves.
Recently Libya agreed with Sudan and Chad to withdraw armed groups that fought alongside the Libyan parties. However, it remains unclear how they would repatriate non-signatories or ICC-wanted rebels.