Sudan to 'deploy' controversial military unit around Khartoum

Posted at 05/19/2014 8:16 AM

KHARTOUM - Sudan's state security agency on Sunday ordered a counter-insurgency unit accused of abusing civilians in the western region of Darfur to deploy around the capital Khartoum.

The move comes as elements of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) engage in what an analyst said is a power play, reflected in their arrest on Saturday of former prime minister and leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi.

"The chief of NISS, General Mohammed Atta, issued a decision ordering the Rapid Support Forces to deploy around the capital," the agency said in a notice issued to local journalists.

There were no further details.

Mahdi is being held at Kober Prison, in the Khartoum area, for alleged treason after he reportedly accused the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of rape and other crimes against people in Darfur.

Newspapers reported last week that NISS, which has authority over the RSF, filed a criminal complaint against Mahdi.

The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the European Union ambassador in Khartoum had also expressed concern about the RSF's activities.

But commanders of the unit denied last week that their men had looted, raped or committed arson.

General Abbas Abdelaziz described it as a "professional" force of 6,000 men "under the control of their commanders and the law".

They were carefully chosen and trained, including in the rights of civilians in war zones, he said.

Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, described the RSF as "Sudan's version of Blackwater," a private American security firm which became notorious in Iraq.

"There's no clear command structure over them. They are given missions. They perform those missions, and they get paid for them," Gizouli said.

The order for RSF to deploy around Khartoum is surprising given that Abdelaziz said last week that his troops were "on holiday".

Another RSF component was, however, still fighting rebels in South Kordofan state, he said.

Insurgents from South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur are grouped in an alliance which has vowed to topple the government.